Underage Drinking: What You Need to Know

A Family Guide

You Are the Most Powerful Influence on Your Child’s Behavior!

Are you zero tolerance when it comes to your kids and drinking, or do you think a beer or two when they’re 17 or 18 is no big deal?  Think about that while you read this sad information:

Mounting research suggests that alcohol causes more damage to the developing brains of teenagers than was previously thought, injuring them significantly more than it does adult brains.

Not only does drinking hurt the teen brain in the present, it can also damage the parts of the brain that are used for decision-making later in life.

What You Need to Know:

Underage Drinking

One out of every two 8th graders has tried alcohol.

  • More kids use alcohol than use tobacco or illicit drugs.
  • More children are killed by alcohol than all illegal drugs combined.
  • Children who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely than those who start after age 21 to develop alcohol problems.
  • The chances of becoming dependent decrease by 14% for each year of delay in the onset of alcohol use.

Alcohol and Judgment

The teenage brain is still developing. Alcohol can impair the parts of the brain that control the following:

  • Motor coordination. This includes the ability to walk, drive and process information.
  • Impulse control. Drinking lowers inhibitions and increases the chances that a person will do something that they will regret when they are sober.
  • Memory. Impaired recollection and even blackouts can occur when too much alcohol has been consumed.
  • Judgement and decision making capacity. Drinking may lead young people to engage in risky behaviors that can result in illness, injury, and even death.


Alcohol use among youth is strongly correlated withviolence, risky sexual behavior, poor academic performance and other harmful behaviors.


  • Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21.


  • Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex.
  • A survey of high school students found that 18% of females and 39% of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.


  • Teens who use alcohol have higher rates of academic problems and poor performance than non-drinkers.
  • Among eighth-graders, higher truancy rates are associated with greater rates of alcohol use in the past month.1


  • More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug.
  • Children who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use any illicit drug, more than 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.


  • When young people drink and get into a car, they tend to make poor decisions that impact their safety.
  •  Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teen and over one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

Family Influence

“What parents may not realize is that children say that parental disapproval of underage drinking is the key reason they have chosen not to drink.”                             

You have more influence over your children than you may realize. Kids spend a lot of time with friends, television, music and magazines. But they are also tuned in to you. Your words and actions impact them in many ways every day.

  • Research studies indicate that children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved in their lives and when they and their parents report feeling close to each other.
  • You can influence your children’s behavior by observing the rules of a moderate drinker or by not drinking.
  • Your older children also influence their younger brothers and sisters. Older siblings’ alcohol use can influence the alcohol use of younger siblings in the family, particularly for same sex siblings.

For adults who choose to drink, moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

Find out what you need to say to your child about alcohol and underage drinking.


Related Resource: 4 Ways to Protect Your Teens with Boundaries

From the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Human Services Administration (SAMHSA)