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Underage Drinking – High School Alcohol Use Trends

It’s no secret that underage drinking persists in America. Because underage consumption remains commonplace, the fatal effects of alcohol are still commonly seen in America’s youth. Each year, more than 4,000 young men and women under the age of 21 die as a result of alcohol consumption.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), this includes nearly 2,000 annual deaths from vehicle crashes, 1,600 homicide-related deaths, and the remainder attributed to suicide and other fatal injuries. It’s clear underage drinking is a leading public health concern in the U.S. Read on to see current trends in underage drinking and alcohol consumption.

Underage Drinking Across the U.S.

In a CDC study into current youth alcohol use by state, on average 32.8 percent of respondents had consumed alcohol within 30 days of being surveyed. However, there was a wide discrepancy among states. Some states, such as Louisiana, had the highest percentage of underage drinking (39 percent); others, such as Utah (11 percent), were far below the average.

Among the top three states in the graph above, Texas and Louisiana have exceptions permitting underage consumption on private, non nonalcohol-selling premises with parental consent (private property or in the home). This exemption applies to other states as well including Nevada (34 percent), Oklahoma (27 percent), South Carolina (25 percent), Wisconsin (33 percent), Ohio (30 percent), and Illinois (31 percent) just to name a few.

Underage Drinking Over Time

By and large, men drink more alcohol than women. However, in a study by the NIAAA conducted between 2002 and 2012, differences between men and women in alcohol consumption are narrowing in the U.S.

Data from the CDC, seen in the chart above, supports this research as we see the number of young males who drank within 30 days of a survey drop dramatically from 1997 to 2003 before continuing a pattern of decline.

Young women who consumed alcohol within 30 days of a survey however stayed in roughly the same percentile range (45–50%) for almost a decade before following a downward trend with males.

The NIAAA study also noted a significant increase in binge drinking among young women, while there was a significant decrease in males, effectively narrowing the gender gap.

“We found that over that period of time, differences in measures such as current drinking, number of drinking days per month, reaching criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year, all narrowed for females and males,” said Dr. White. “Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing.”

While scientists have been unable to find a correlation or cause, the findings raise flags as women are at a greater risk than men for alcohol-related health problems, including liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurotoxicity. The female body, regardless of age, takes longer to metabolize alcohol. Simply put, young women put themselves at considerable risk of long-term health effects as a result of consuming alcohol.

Binge Drinking, by Grade Level

From the study 25.6 percent of male high school seniors engage in binge drinking, which the CDC defines as consuming more than five alcoholic drinks in a period of two hours or less. 8.8 percent of male seniors participate in excessive binge drinkingthe consumption of 10 or more drinks in a row. The data also show us that the number of binge-drinking female adolescents almost matches the number of males in earlier years, particularly ninth grade. However, Binge drinking in males jumps sharply in 10th grade. There’s another sharp increase in 11th grade for both males and females.

According to a 2013 study into extreme binge drinking, the percentage of students who drink has decreased significantly, but the percentage of extreme binge drinking has stayed virtually the same in recent years. This activity often leads to injuries, accidents, alcohol poisoning, and drowning. Not only does it impair driving ability, but it also increases the risk of liver damage and alcohol dependence.

“[Consuming] high levels of alcohol at this age can alter brain development,” said Megan Patrick, lead author of the study and research assistant at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Among the findings published by the University of Michigan:

1. Senior boys were more likely than girls to participate in all levels of binge drinking.
2. Seniors with college-educated parents were more likely to binge drink, but students without college-educated parents were more likely to engage in extreme binge drinking.
3. Students from rural areas were more likely to engage in extreme binge drinking than students in urban and suburban communities.
4. Seniors who drank 15 or more drinks at a time were significantly more likely to use other drugs than those who did not binge drink.

Percentage of Underage Drinking, by City and County

According to the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report, there are at least a dozen major metro areas throughout the U.S. where more than 60 percent of high school students reported trying alcohol at some point. 17.2 percent have tried alcohol before the age of 13.

Among examined metros, the most prolific use is seen in Florida, specifically Miami Dade County (62.8 percent) and Palm Beach County (62.5 percent), with Broward County, FL (61.2 percent) and Philadelphia, PA (60.0 percent) next. The metro areas seeing the least reported underage drinking rates are San Francisco (43.5 percent) and District of Columbia, DC (46.6 percent).

For the most part, the areas which stand out the most from this study are locations in the Midwest and out to the West Coast, with few East Coast states included. Likewise, a comparison of the listed states also draws a correlation to the number of states that currently have legal exceptions for the underage consumption of alcohol, save for a few – Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Tennessee, and Michigan.

For the most part, the areas which stand out the most from this study are locations in the Southeast, Midwest and West Coast. Likewise, a comparison of the listed states also draws a correlation to the number of states that currently have legal exceptions for the underage consumption of alcohol, save for a few – Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and Michigan.

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Percentage of Minors Who Have Driven Drunk

The percentage of teens in high school who consume alcohol then drive has decreased by more than 50 percent since the early ’90s, but this continues to be an ongoing problem. Particularly because the number of students who drink and drive increases progressively from ninth grade to 12th grade. For males it’s a gradual increase. However, for females there’s a significant spike in drinking and driving from 10th to 12th grade.

Overall, the number of female students who drove after consuming alcohol is substantially lower than males who did the same. However, more women admit to riding with a driver who drank while they were in the early years of high school (ninth grade).

Although there’s no scientific data pointing to why women were counted higher among those who rode with a drunk driver, this could potentially be linked to common gender roles, such as a man driving a female partner to a date or acting as the driver for a group of students attending an event or traveling together.

After 9th grade, the percentage of men and women who rode with a drunk driver remain (and fluctuate) almost identically before women increase just 1% over men in their senior year.

According to the CDC, young drivers (aged 16 to 20) are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent than when they have not been drinking. Teen drivers are already three times more likely than experienced drivers to be involved in a motor vehicle crash – alcohol greatly increases that likelihood. And it’s not just the drivers and passengers who can be injured or killed.

A study from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found that in 2013 there were 200 children under the age of 14 killed in automobile accidents as a result of alcohol-impaired-driving.

75 percent of those deaths involved drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher; 121 children occupied the same vehicle as the impaired driver, another 29 were either walking or riding a bike when they were struck and killed by an impaired driver.

Drinking Behaviors Across the U.S.

A long-term study from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that adolescents and kids who sipped alcohol early on are more likely to start drinking sooner and to abuse alcohol. They were also four times more likely to binge drink.

Unfortunately, many of our states still have exemptions to their underage drinking laws that permit parents to make that decision and allow their children to drink.

“Parents may rationalize that they are teaching their children to drink responsibly, thereby reducing risk of alcohol-related consequences,” the researchers stated in the study. “However, permission to drink at home and explicit provision of alcohol are prospectively associated with greater levels of adolescent alcohol use, heavy use, drunkenness, and drinking intentions.”

We can see a recurring theme in states with legal exemptions to underage drinking but also in trends that point back to the above research on youth consumption.We see states appearing multiple times in the research, such as with respondents who admit to receiving alcohol from an adult (32.2 percent in Alabama) or admit to drinking more than 5 drinks in a row (20.7% in Montana) also admitting to driving after consuming alcohol (10.8 percent in Alabama, 10.9 percent in Montana)

What’s interesting is that among the top 3 states for underage drinking and driving, Montana is the single most recurring state in the chart above and has legal exemptions for underage drinking. As does Nebraska. Alabama, one of the top states for underage drinking, has zero exemptions and strictly prohibits underage consumption however 32 percent of respondents there reported receiving alcohol from an adult.

Combating Underage Drinking

We know from the data that nonprofit and governmental programs have had a profound impact on underage drinking, greatly reducing the number of minors consuming alcohol. This has directly reduced the number of fatalities and injuries related to alcohol consumption in minors as well.

But more needs to be done. Students and minors who consume alcohol take a great deal of risk with their health. It can have a lasting impact on the body, education, careers, and can even create irreparable rifts among friends and family. Students who drink and drive also put themselves – and the lives of others – at greater risk.

Overcoming addictions and alcohol consumption can be a difficult choice, but help is always available. At, you can seek treatment and therapy from qualified and trusted professionals who are there to help you put an end to alcohol abuse. Contact today at for a free treatment consultation.



Current State-level drinking rates use data from 2013 for states unavailable for 2015, including Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas, and Utah. City and county data reflect regions selected to produce a nationally representative sample.

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