Consequences of Underage Alcohol Use
> 12/15/2005 5:35:19 PM

Nine- to thirteen-year-old youth who disregard the known harms associated with alcohol use risk a number of serious and potentially life-threatening consequences, including the likelihood of being involved in unsafe activities.

Dependency and Depression

  • Youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence as compared to those who wait until the age of 21. Each additional year of delayed drinking onset reduces the probability of alcohol dependence by 14 percent. (Grant)
  • Students diagnosed with alcohol abuse were found to be four times more likely to experience major depression than those without an alcohol problem. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997)

Academic Performance

  • A lower dose of alcohol will damage a young brain quickly as compared to a fully mature brain. Alcohol consumption during adolescence is linked with a reduced ability to learn compared to no exposure until adulthood. (Swartzwelder, Wilson, & Tayyeb)

Long-term Health

  • Youth who drink heavily assume the same long-term health risks as adults who drink heavily. This means they are at increased risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, hemorrhagic stroke, and certain forms of cancer. (National Institute in Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1993)

Behavioral Problems and Crime

  • Adolescents who use alcohol are more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age, to have sex more often, and to engage in unprotected sex, which places them at greater risk of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. (Office of the Inspector General)
  • Alcohol use is linked with youthful deaths by drowning, fire, suicide, and homicide. In particular, alcohol use among youth has been associated with considering, planning, attempting, and completing suicide. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997 and 2000)
  • Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2000)


Grant, B.F. (1998). The impact of a family history of alcoholism on the relationship between age at onset of alcohol use and DSM-IV alcohol dependence. Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Alcohol Health and Research World, 22.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1993). Alcohol Health and Research World, Volume 17, No. 2.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (July 1997). Youth Drinking: Risk Factors and Consequences, Alcohol Alert, No. 37.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2000). Make a Difference, Talk to Your Child About Alcohol. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH Publication No. 00-4314.

Office of the Inspector General. (1992). Report to the Surgeon General, Youth and Alcohol: Dangerous and Deadly Consequences. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Education.

Swartzwelder, H.S., Wilson, W.A., and Tayyeb, M.I. (1996). Age-dependent inhibition of long-term potentiation by ethanol in immature versus mature hippocampus. Alcoholism: Clinical Experimental Research, 20.

Excerpt from Too Smart To Start SmartSTATS: a Data Book, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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