The Facts: Underage Drinking

Why are we so concerned about underage drinking? *

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 20, and the rate of fatal crashes among alcohol-involved drivers between 16 and 20 years old who have been using alcohol is more than twice the rate for drivers 21 and older who were using alcohol. Alcohol use is also linked with youthful deaths by drowning, suicide and homicide.
  • A person who begins drinking by the age of 15 is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.
  • During adolescence, new networks are being formed in the brain. Alcohol use during this time can affect brain development.
  • Alcohol use is associated with many adolescent risk behaviors, including other drug use and delinquency, carrying a weapon and fighting, and perpetrating or being the victim of date rape.

*National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The cost of underage drinking
Underage drinking cost the citizens of Washington $1.4 billion in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from the use of alcohol by youth. Direct costs of medical care and loss of work alone equals $515 million each year.

What do Washington youth tell us about alcohol use?
According to the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey taken by 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in Washington State:

  • Of students who report drinking within the past 30 days, most reported drinking 1-2 days during the month.
  • Among students who drink, most use hard liquor, putting themselves at greater risk for alcohol poisoning.
  • Nearly one in five 10th graders and 12th graders (17 percent) reported riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. About one in ten 12th graders (9 percent) reported driving after using alcohol.

See charts to the right for more information from the 2016 Washington Healthy Youth Survey.

Get more facts about alcohol and youth:


If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call the Recovery Helpline at 1-866-789-1511.



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