• Text Resize A A A
  • Print Print
  • Share Share Share Share

Risks of Adolescent Alcohol Use

Adolescents who drink alcohol are more likely to:

  • Experience injury or death. Adolescents who drink put themselves at risk of injury or death from alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related accidents. Drinking and driving is especially deadly for adolescents: one in seven drivers ages 16-20 involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had alcohol in their systems.1 Unfortunately, it is relatively common for adolescents to drive or ride with someone under the influence of alcohol. In 2017, one in 18 high school students reported drinking and driving, and one in six high school students rode with a driver who had been drinking.2
  • Have impaired judgment. Consuming alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, exposing adolescents to serious dangers, including risky sexual behavior as well as physical and sexual assault
  • Have difficulty at school. Adolescent drinking is associated with having trouble at school, including missing class and having low grades
  • Have alcohol interfere with brain development. Research shows that adolescents’ brains continue developing into their 20s. Alcohol use can negatively influence this development, potentially affecting both brain structure and function
  • Have alcohol addiction and related problems. Adolescents who start drinking early are at risk of suffering from alcohol addiction. Adolescents who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely at some point in their lives meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. Additionally, there are long-term alcohol-related consequences including chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, psychological disorders, and various cancers.
  • Have legal problems. It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to purchase or publicly consume alcohol in all 50 states. Youth who violate the law risk serious legal consequences.

Among drivers 16-20 involved in fatal accidents, 1 in 7 had alcohol in their systems


1 National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2017, October). Alcohol-impaired driving: 2016 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 812 450). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812450.

2 Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Queens, B., … Ethier, K. A. (2018). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2017. Surveillance Summaries67(8), 1-114. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6708a1.htm?s_cid=hy-yrbs2017-mmwr.

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on March 29, 2019