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Underage Drinking Facts2024-05-01T10:07:53-04:00

Underage Drinking Facts

Discover the latest statistics and learn how stigma and behaviors
surrounding underage drinking are changing

The Truth About Underage Drinking

The legal drinking age in North Carolina — and throughout the United States — is 21, yet according to statistics, alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people. In fact, underage drinking often starts early. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that nearly 20% of youth between the ages of 12 to 20 self-reported that they drank alcohol in the past 30 days. 1

Underage Drinking Statistics

The data shows that not only have 23% of high school students had alcohol in the past month, but many have also engaged in other dangerous alcohol-related, risky behaviors: 2
14% binge drank
5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol
17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol

But exposure to alcohol happens long before high school.

10% of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. 3
15% of 8th graders have consumed alcohol in the last year. 4
2% of 8th graders report being drunk in the past month

What does this mean for the parenting community and other youth leaders?

We can’t wait until high school to start the conversation about underage drinking. We must start earlier — to help empower young people to say no to underage drinking.

6 Reasons Why Teenagers Drink

  • 1


  • 2

    Peer pressure – they are desperate to fit in

  • 3

    Environmental influences like advertising, social media, movies, and TV

  • 4

    To cope with stress or underlying issues

  • 5

    To seem older or more independent

  • 6

    They lack set guidance and boundaries from authority figures

Stats from

The Dangers of Underage Drinking

Underage Drinking Can Kill

• Every year, more than 4,000 alcohol-related deaths among young people under the age of 21 5
• In 2021, there were nearly 20 teen fatalities in North Carolina due to drunk driving 6

• Alcohol-related deaths among people 16-20 years old increased nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020 7

Underage Drinking Can Lead To Other Unsafe Outcomes

  • Trouble in school, including higher rates of absences or lower grades
  • Social struggles, such as fighting or lack of participation in youth activities
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving under the influence or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical setbacks, like hangovers or illnesses
  • Physical and sexual violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other accidental injuries, such as burns, falls, or drownings
  • Memory problems
  • Misuse and abuse of other substances
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects

Underage Drinking Is Linked To Mental Illness

• Anxiety sensitivity
• Elevated levels of depression
• Increased risk of alcohol misuse in adulthood
• Worsened stress response
• Increased risk of suicide 8

Did You Know North Carolina Has A Zero-Tolerance Policy?

While the facts on the health implications of underage drinking are startling, there is also the potential for serious legal ramifications. Under current NC Law 18B, a person under the age of 21 caught purchasing, attempting to purchase, consuming, or possessing alcohol will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. In addition, obtaining or distributing a fake ID, or letting someone borrow a legitimate license, is a criminal offense. Sentencing is left to the judge’s discretion.

North Carolina takes a zero-tolerance stance against drivers who are under the legal drinking age but drank and then got behind the wheel. Any amount of alcohol will result in an immediate 30-day pretrial revocation of their driver’s license. If an underage drinking driver refuses to take a sobriety test, they could be convicted of driving after drinking if the smell of alcohol was on their breath. If convicted, the Division of Motor Vehicles can revoke that person’s driver’s license.

“People under age 21 simply cannot drive with any alcohol or illegally-used drugs in their systems – period.

Now’s the time to talk with young people about underage drinking.

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