Risks from Underage Alcohol Use

A teen boy and girl talking to a teacher beside a row of lockersDangers of Underage Alcohol Use

The legal drinking age is 21. However, most adults (95 percent) who become dependent on or abuse alcohol begin drinking before age 21.1 Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience the following risks:

  • Brain and other neurological impairment

  • Missed school and lower grades

  • Hangovers and other problems, including death from alcohol poisoning

  • Sexual intercourse, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or being involved in sexual assault

  • Greater suicide and homicide risk

  • Injuries or death from car crashes (driving drunk or riding with someone who is under the influence), burns, falls, and drowning

  • Abuse of tobacco or other drugs2

Many of these risks are more likely for youth who binge drink. Binge drinking is having five or more drinks in a row.

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to examine the ways you address alcohol and tobacco use in your family.
  • Learn about the risks associated with underage tobacco use.

Research Sources

1. Office of Applied Studies (2004, updated 2008). The NSDUH Report: Alcohol dependence or abuse and age of first use. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012).

2. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2012, September). Effects and consequences of underage drinking. Juvenile Justice Bulletin (NCJ 237145), 1-11. Also see: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2014). Report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking 2013. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.