For tweens, alcohol is already a fact of life.

Exposure to drinking and the pressure to drink aren’t things that suddenly pop up in high school. Some children in North Carolina have their first exposure to alcohol outside the home while they’re still in elementary school; for most, it’s common to hear about incidents involving alcohol in their middle-school years.

  • Nearly two-thirds of middle school– and high school–aged youth know people around their age who have tried alcohol. 14
  • The average age that most youths try alcohol for the first time is just 14. 15
  • Thirty-eight percent of eighth graders have had alcohol at least once. 16
  • About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. 17

All of which means that as parents, we can’t wait until high school to have real talks with our kids. We have to start much earlier, so they’ll be fully prepared for what they’re going to face.

Underage Drinking Facts: Kids in North Carolina know there’s a problem. What about their parents?

If the people who are seeing the reality of underage drinking say there’s a problem, shouldn’t we believe them?

The good news is that our children can see what’s going on around them, and they’re not happy about it. The vast majority of North Carolina’s youth — 94% — say underage drinking is a problem. 18
More than half of them think it’s a serious problem. 19

The bad news? Less than half of North Carolina parents share that view. 20

Maybe if everyone understood the devastating ramifications of underage drinking, we’d take it more seriously.

Underage Drinking Facts: The impacts of underage drinking are enormous.


  • More teens die as a result of alcohol use than all other illicit drugs combined. 1
  • More than one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related. Even nondrinking teens are at risk if they get into a car with an alcohol-impaired driver. 2
  • In North Carolina, one person dies every week as a result of underage drinking. 3
  • In 2018, there were 38 underage fatalities attributed to alcohol-impaired driving in N.C. 4

Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience.

  • School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting or lack of participation in youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth or sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, or drowning.
  • Memory problems.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • In general, the risk of youth experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink.
  • Early initiation of drinking is associated with development of an alcohol use disorder later in life.


  • Teens who use alcohol are at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses such as depression, suicide and psychosis as adults. 5
  • Among 12- to 17-year-olds who were current drinkers, 31 percent exhibited extreme levels of psychological distress, and 39 percent exhibited serious behavioral problems. 6
  • 12- to 16-year-old girls who were current drinkers were four times more likely than their nondrinking peers to suffer depression. 7
  • Suicide attempts among heavy-drinking adolescents were three to four times greater than among nondrinkers. 8
  • Among eighth-grade girls who drink heavily, 37 percent report attempting suicide, compared to the 11 percent of girls who do not drink who report attempting suicide. 9


  • People ages 12 to 20 drink 4.0 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. 10
  • Although youth drink less often than adults do, when they do drink, they drink more. More than 90 percent of all alcoholic drinks consumed by young people are consumed through binge drinking. 11
  • In 2019, 4.2 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the past month. 12
  • In 2019, 825,000 young people reported binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past month. 13

The Bottom Line: Teens aren’t prepared to deal with the risks of alcohol on their own.

Underage Drinking Facts

The brain areas that encourage impulsivity and risk-taking develop early in a teen — but areas that improve self-control and inhibit impulsive behavior don’t develop until the very late teens or early 20s.

Adolescent alcohol use is not an acceptable rite of passage, but a serious threat to adolescent development and health.

The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking

Which is why teenagers need parental help to stay alcohol-free.

Find out how you as a parent can make a differencethe difference — in whether or not your child stays alcohol-free.