Health Dangers

Drinking fogs thinking and erodes judgment. When you combine alcohol with teenagers’ natural risktaking6 and desire to impress their friends, dangerous things happen.2 Each year, underage drinking contributes to the death of approximately 4,700 young people. 6(p10)

By waiting until the legal age of 21 to start drinking, your teen protects his or her health and reduces risk of the following dangers:

Physical injuries
Teens who drink do crazy things,5,6(p2) like jump off the roof, drag race, and climb into a car with a stranger.p6 They may fall and hurt themselves9(p11) or fight with fists, knives, or guns. Underage drinking leads to 1,600 homicides each year. 4,6,9(p10)

Drunk driving
Teens are less capable than adults of knowing when they’ve had too much to drink,5(p2) and rationalize that it’s okay to drive after drinking. Underage drinking kills 1,900 people in fatal car crashes each year. 6,9(p10)

Assault and sexual abuse
Intoxicated teens are not able to run or defend themselves and are at the mercy of muggers, rapists, and other attackers. 4,9(p10)

Sexual promiscuity
Under the influence of alcohol, your child is more likely to have unprotected sex with multiple partners, pick up sexually transmitted diseases, or get pregnant. 4(p77),9(p81)

Brain damage
When consumed in large quantities, alcohol can cause lasting brain damage. 8 Kids who binge drink—boys who consume five or more drinks at a time, and girls who have four or more—are at greatest risk. 4,9

Addiction and substance abuse
Early drinking increases the odds that your child will get hooked on alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. Kids who drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics. 3,4(p79),5,6,9(p11)

Kids who abuse alcohol think about killing themselves and act on that impulse more. 4,11

For teens, alcohol is an illegal drug.
That’s why parents need to enforce zero tolerance.

The dangers don’t stop here. Underage drinking poses many other legal, academic, and career risks to your teen, and more problems for your family and community.


1. Foley, Kristie, et al. "Adults’ Approval and Adolescents’ Alcohol Use." Journal of Adolescent Health. 35, No. 4, (2004).

2. Hingson, Ralph W. and Wenxing Zha. “Age of Drinking Onset, Alcohol Use Disorders, Frequent Heavy Drinking, and Unintentionally Injuring Oneself and Others After Drinking” Pediatrics Vol. 123 No. 6 June 2009, pp. 1477-1484 (Published online May 26, 2009) Read more

3. Hingson, Ralph W. et al. “Age of Alcohol-Dependence Onset: Associations With Severity of Dependence and Seeking Treatment.” Pediatrics 2006; 118;e755-e763.

4. Miller et al. “Binge Drinking and Associated Health Risk Behaviors Among High School Students,” Pediatrics (2007) 119:1. Read more

5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Underage Drinking Research Initiative: Alcohol and the Developing Adolescent Brain.” Read more

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: CDC.

7. Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University. (2005) Parents as a Resource: Talking with Adolescents About Alcohol.

8. Tapert, Susan F. et al. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain—Human Studies” Read more

9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking 2007. Read more

10. Van Voorhees, Benjamin W. “Drug abuse and dependence” Medline Plus. Read more

11. Windle, M. et al. “Alcohol use, suicidal behavior, and risky activities among adolescents. J Res Adolesc. 1992; 2:317-330.