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Alcohol Addiction in Teenagers & Young Adults: Stats, Risks, & Prevention

Although the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, many young adults have had alcohol before they reach that age. Underage drinking is a nationwide problem, and in 2019, 7 million people between the ages of 12-20 reported that they drank “more than just a few sips” of alcohol.1 While this may not seem dire, early use and misuse of alcohol in teenagers and young adults can lead to serious problems later in life.

Young Adult & Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

Underage drinking is considered to be a significant health problem in the United States.2 Annually, excessive underage alcohol consumption causes 3,900 deaths.3 What’s more, alcohol continues to be the most common substance used by U.S. youth, with a higher proportion of underaged individuals using alcohol instead of tobacco, marijuana, or other drugs.4

Underage alcohol use begins early, with 15% of those who reported drinking underage saying they started before they were 13 years of age.5 Additionally, about 2.3 million teens between 12 and 17 years of age tried alcohol for the first time in 2019.6 This startling statistic equates to 6,200 teens using alcohol every day in 2019.6

The prevalence of young adult and teen alcohol use varies greatly by age group. For example, 46% of 16-17 year olds reported using alcohol once in their lives, while only 25% of 14-15 year olds reported that they have tried alcohol once in their lives.7 By the 8th grade, about 1 in 4 (24%) of students had used alcohol, and by the end of 12th grade, 59% of students had done so.8 Of college-aged students (18-24), 53% reported drinking alcohol within the past month, and 33% reported binge drinking (e.g., drinking more than 5 drinks on one occasion for males, 4 for women) in the past month.9

Why Drinking in Teens & Young Adults Is so Common

There are many different reasons why teens and young adults consume alcohol. One of the most common reasons is peer pressure. If teens and young adults see peers drinking, they’ll want to also drink to be included and have a social life.

Other reasons teens drink and experiment with alcohol include curiosity and wanting to feel good or reduce stress.10 Many teenagers struggle with their mental health, and alcohol can be a way to help them cope and find temporary relief. Plus, advertisements show teens beautiful people having a fun time while enjoying alcohol, and, if parents or other adults around the teens are using alcohol, doing so may seem less risky to teens whose brains are not fully developed to understand the true risk of consuming alcohol.10

Young Adult & Teen Drinking Dangers

Teen alcohol use is common, but it is also incredibly dangerous. Underage drinking is tied to a wide range of health and social risks, which include:4

  • Death from vehicle crashes.
  • Violence.
  • Accidental injuries (e.g., falls, burns, and drownings).
  • Risky sexual activity.
  • Brain impairment.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Academic problems.
  • Suicide.
  • Alcohol dependence.

What’s more, the legal penalty for consuming alcohol as a minor can be severe. Punishments depend on the state but can include fines, community service, and educational courses. These consequences can also go on a permanent record and negatively impact the person’s future.

Beyond these factors, early alcohol use is associated with the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life.11 Alcohol addiction in teenagers is a serious problem, and it can continue throughout adulthood. Alcohol is considered to be a factor in approximately 4,300 deaths each year for people under the age of 21, shortening the lives of young adults by 60 years, on average.4

Treating & Preventing Alcohol Addiction in Young Adults

If your teen struggles with alcohol use or alcohol addiction, or if you’re looking for ways to prevent underage drinking, there are things that you can do. In terms of prevention, parents can highlight the dangers of teen alcohol use and help their children understand the science behind addiction. Practicing early intervention and prevention is key in helping teens understand the dangers of consuming alcohol while underage and helping them keep up healthy habits.

If your teen does have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, or you believe they have an AUD, it may be time to help get them treatment for alcohol addiction. Consider working with them to take an alcohol addiction self-assessment. Involving them in the decision-making and speaking to them as an adult can go a long way in getting them on board if treatment is the best route to take.

If treatment is the best option for your teen, know that AUD is a treatable disease. You’ll need to look for teen rehab centers, as not every rehab facility offers treatment for teenagers or young adults. You may want to look into outpatient programming, depending on the severity of your teen’s AUD, as it may allow them to remain in school while still getting the care they need. If you have health insurance, rehab costs may be covered, but it’s important to verify your insurance before entering care.

Find Out if Your Insurance Plan Covers Alcohol Addiction Rehab

American Addiction Centers can improve treatment outcomes for those in recovery from alcohol abuse and AUD. To find out if your insurance covers alcohol addiction treatment at an American Addiction Centers facility, click here or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 7.16A— Alcohol use in lifetime, past year, and past month among persons aged 12 to 20, by gender: Numbers in thousands, 2002-2019.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Underage drinking.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Alcohol-related disease impact application website.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), SAMHSA. (2018). Report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) Trends in the prevalence of alcohol use national YRBS: 1991–2019.
  6. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001, NSDUH Series H-55).
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2020). Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. Detailed Table 2.6B.
  8. Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2020). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use 1975-2019: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.
  9. SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Statistics and Quality. (2020). 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 6.21B—Types of illicit drug, tobacco product, and alcohol use in past month among persons aged 18 to 22, by college enrollment status and gender: Percentages, 2018 and 2019.
  10. Nemours TeensHealth. (September 2016).
  11. Buchmann, A. F., Schmid, B., Blomeyer, D., Becker, K., Treutlein, J., Zimmermann, U. S., … & Laucht, M. (2009). Impact of age at first drink on vulnerability to alcohol-related problems: testing the marker hypothesis in a prospective study of young adults. Journal of psychiatric research, 43(15), 1205–1212.

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