Get Informed - Teen Drinking

Alcohol is by far the most widely used drug in the United States. Four out of 5 people over the age of twelve have tried it, and this is two and a half times more than the number who have experimented with marijuana.  Alcohol contributes to 100,000 deaths/year, including nearly 2 out of 5 traffic deaths. (1)

Not So Fun Facts

  • 63.2% of of high-school students had had at least one drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during their life and 32.8% have used alcohol in the last 30 days. (2)
  • 23.8% of students had drank alcohol (more than a few sips) before age 13 years.(2)
  • According to a national survey, nearly 17.7% of all high school students reported hazardous drinking (5+ drinks in one setting). (2)
  • Girls are as likely as boys their age to drink alcohol.
  • One in six teens admits to having experienced alcohol-induced blackouts, where they could not recall the events of the previous evening.
Get Informed - Teen Drinking

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is Alcohol Bad For Me?

Alcohol slows down your body by affecting the brain and central nervous system. It can make users loosen up, relax, and feel more comfortable, or can make them more aggressive.  The more you drink, the more it slows your body’s response to your brain. This affects thinking, talking, seeing, walking, driving, and doing day-to-day tasks. While alcohol can be used responsibly in persons older than 21, and when used in minimal quantities, it is especially dangerous to teens.  Since the teenage brain is still growing and developing, it is more easily damaged by large amounts of alcohol.  Binge drinking (the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time) is a perfect way to destroy developing brain cells.

The top three causes of death among persons 15 to 24 years of age are accidents, homicide, and suicide, each of which involves alcohol 20 to 40% of the time. (3)  Other risky behaviors associated with alcohol use include increased sexual activity, increased illicit drug use, more likely to be in a fight after drinking, academic problems (such as lower grades, absenteeism and high dropout rates), and increased traffic accidents.

How does alcohol affect a person?

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is metabolized in the liver by enzymes; however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. This excess alcohol is rapidly absorbed through the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream.The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others?

Individual reactions to alcohol vary, and are influenced by many factors including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Physical condition (weight, fitness level, etc)
  • Amount of food consumed before drinking
  • How quickly the alcohol was consumed
  • Use of drugs or prescription medicines
  • Family history of alcohol problems
What is a standard drink in the United States?

A standard drink is equal to 13.7 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12-ounces of beer or a wine cooler*
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor
  • 5-ounces of wine
  • 1.5-ounces or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey)

Mixed drinks may have more alcohol.

*It is commonly thought that wine or wine coolers have less alcohol than a beer.  This is not true.  Each of these has the same amount of alcohol.

Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?

No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely.(3) The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment.

What does it mean to be above the legal limit for drinking?
  • The legal limit for drinking is the alcohol level above which an individual is subject to legal penalties (e.g., arrest or loss of a driver’s license).
  • Legal limits are measured using either a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer.
  • Legal limits are typically defined by state law, and may vary based on individual characteristics, such as age and occupation.
  • All states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dL) as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older. However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system.
  • Legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to operate a vehicle or engage in some other activity. Impairment due to alcohol use begins to occur at levels well below the legal limit.
What are the types of Alcoholism?

Binge Drinking vs Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism

Binge drinking is defined as 3 or more drinks in a row, while alcohol abuse is drinking too often or too much even though there are negative consequences.  Alcoholism is another level up and is associated with dependency.

It is important to remember that it isn’t just confirmed alcoholics who suffer repercussions of alcohol use. A single episode of reckless drinking can end in tragedy, as when a teen gets behind the steering wheel of a car while under the influence, or when an intoxicated young woman accepts an acquaintance’s sexual advances. (1)

Here are some of the more common issues binge drinkers face:

  • Lack of concentration in school–>this often leads to bad grades or even dropping out.
  • Loss of friends–>alcohol binges can drastically change someone’s personality and their friends will drift away.
  • Memory loss and blackouts.
  • Lack of judgment–>unfortunately, many teens that are binge drinking make other bad decisions, like getting behind the wheel of a car or sleeping with someone without protection. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer for ages 15-20 and the number of fatal crashes caused by drunk driving is double for teens as compared to those over 21.
  • Trouble with the law–>drinking and driving can get your license suspended or worse.
  • Suicide–>drinking boosts the suicide rate nearly 3 times.
  • Alcohol poisoning–>alcohol is rapidly absorbed through the stomach lining and drinking too much too fast can be fatal as many have found out.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is the first step towards alcoholism and it is probably the biggest problem that results from teen drinking. Alcohol abuse usually refers to repeated drinking with bad consequences, but it can also relate to one time incidents (like when a teen drinks and drives just once and ends up crashing). Here are the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse: (4)

  • Drinking at inappropriate times–>this might include drinking alcohol at school, work, or while driving, often causing some major and even deadly problems.
  • Drinking even though it causes problems. For example, if you find that you are always getting in fights while drunk, but continue to drink, this would be considered alcohol abuse.
  • Repeated alcohol-related legal issues. Some teens always seem to be getting busted for underage drinking, drinking and driving, or other similar problems.
  • Failure at school and work, due to being drunk or hungover.  This is actually a pretty common problem. Someone has a long night of partying and shows up for work the next day still buzzed or too hungover to really do their job.


Alcoholism is quite different from alcohol abuse. It’s another level up and is associated with dependency. The alcoholic cannot function properly (or so they believe) without a constant supply of alcohol. Below are some of the common signs of alcoholism:

  • Drinking more and more in order to feel that buzz. This happens because one’s tolerance toward alcohol can actually be built up if you drink fairly often. Frequent drinking will mean you need a lot more alcohol in order to get drunk.
  • Most of the person’s time is affected by alcohol.  When you find that you spend the majority of your time trying to get alcohol, drinking it, or recovering from a hangover, chances are you are an alcoholic.
  • Physical symptoms appear when alcohol is not available.  If an alcoholic tries to quit, they’ll experience the typical symptoms of any addict: trembling, nausea, sweating and nervousness. An alcoholic will also crave alcohol and might even go to extremes to get it.
  • Loss of control while drinking.  This doesn’t refer to getting drunk, but when someone says they are only going to have one beer and then find they can’t stop after one, this could be a sign of alcoholism.

Tips to Avoid Drinking and Driving

It is always best to avoid any underage drinking.  If you do choose to have an alcoholic beverage:

  • Stay smart and speak up. Remember that the effects of alcohol (or drugs) last for hours, so even if your friends haven’t had a drink in a while, it could still be dangerous for them to drive so think twice before getting in a car with them.
  • Find another ride. Try to find another sober friend to give you a lift.
  • Call someone to pick you up. You might not want to call Mom or Dad to get you from a party, but chances are, they’ll be happier that you called them rather than putting yourself in a dangerous situation. You also could call another family member or trusted adult.
  • Crash at the host’s house. If possible, wait it out until morning and stay put. Just make sure to let someone know where you are and that you are safe.
  • The best advice: Plan ahead. If you know people will be drinking, pick a designated driver before you head out. Better yet, throw your own booze-free bash!

Need Help? What to Do if You Think you are an Alcoholic

Get Informed - Teen Drinking

How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.

Answering the following four questions can help you find out if you or a loved one has a drinking problem:

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. More than one “yes” answer means it is highly likely that a problem exists. If you think that you or someone you know might have an alcohol problem, it is important to talk to a guardian and see a healthcare provider right away. They can help you determine if a drinking problem exists and help you plan the best course of action.

There are many national and local resources that can also help. The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service provides a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-662-HELP (4357),  and offers various resource information. Through this service you can speak directly to a representative concerning substance abuse treatment, request printed material on alcohol or other drugs, or obtain local substance abuse treatment referral information in your State.


Many people also find support groups a helpful aid to recovery. The following list includes a variety of resources:

  • Al-Anon/Alateen
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA)
  • National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI)



  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/substance-abuse/pages/Alcohol-The-Most-Popular-Choice.aspx,  Last accessed 9/14/18
  2. 2017 National Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/trends/us_alcohol_trend_yrbs.pdf, Last accessed December 2018.
  3. Smith  GS, Branas  CC, Miller  TR.  Fatal nontraffic injuries involving alcohol: a meta-analysis.  Ann Emerg Med.  1999;33:659 68.


Information Last updated December 2018

Disclaimer: All health information on Girlsmarts.org is for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a trusted adult/guardian or professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard parental or professional medical advice or delay in seeking these because of something you have read on the Girlsmarts.org website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call a trusted adult and your doctor or 911 immediately.


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