The 2023 State of Underage Drinking in North Carolina: What Students & Parents Think

Across the country, underage drinking remains an issue. The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that alcohol is the most used substance among adolescents, and “people ages 12 to 20 drink 3.4% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.” Some parents who see these results don’t believe they have to worry about underage drinking issues in their communities or with their children. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

As part of Talk it Out NC’s commitment to finding solutions to underage drinking in North Carolina, we recently conducted online interviews with 505 parents and 306 middle and high school students regarding their attitudes and behaviors associated with alcohol. One issue that surfaced multiple times in our survey is the underlying disconnect between parents and students on the subject of alcohol use by minors. There are large gaps in communication and differing perceptions on a number of important points. Talk it Out NC wants to help you understand where those gaps between parents and children exist and how to bridge them. To that end, here are some of the key takeaways from our survey:

1. Parents need to Start the Conversation about underage drinking early.

The earlier parents start the conversation the better.  Our underage drinking survey found that 51% of parents would wait until their children are 12 or older to bring up the subject. The sad reality is that 35% of students reported “trying” alcohol by age 12, and 65% had tried it by 14. Pre-teens are often curious about alcohol, and it’s a great idea for parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their children in middle school.  Waiting until they’re older means they may be exposed to incorrect information about drinking alcohol or even try it before their parents have talked with them about the risks of underage drinking.

2. Both parents and students think underage drinking issues are real, but their perceptions differ.

90% of parents believe underage drinking is a problem in their community, as compared to 84% of students, but more students (50% to 43%) believe it’s a “serious” problem. Perhaps this difference in perceptions is due to what the students are seeing among friends. 66% of students say people their age are likely to drink enough alcohol to get sick (suggesting multiple drinks), and an alarming 48% say their peers are likely to drink enough to pass out. To make matters worse, social media posts are normalizing underage drinking. Two in five students report seeing posts of their friends with alcohol.

3. Alcohol misuse among minors is an issue in North Carolina.

  • One-third of students believe their peers think underage drinking is acceptable.
  • 58% of middle school students and 75% of high schoolers know people around their age who’ve already “tried” alcohol.
  • 25% of middle schoolers admit to having “tried” alcohol themselves.
  • 47% of high schoolers say they’ve “tried” alcohol.
  • Among those who admit to drinking, two in five do so regularly.

4. Students believe parents can help prevent underage drinking.

While 72% of parents say friends have the most influence over whether minors drink alcohol, students seem to believe otherwise. An impressive 93% of them think parents could help stop underage drinking if they had more conversations with their children about the dangers involved with it. In another disconnect between the two groups, we found that parents recall more frequent conversations about the subject than students do. 27% of parents reported talking with their children about alcohol “often.” Only 14% of students said the same.

5. It’s up to parents to keep communication flowing.

Even though students want to hear from their parents about alcohol, they don’t always feel comfortable bringing up the subject. Our underage drinking survey found that 52% of middle school students and 46% of high schoolers believe people their age are too embarrassed or afraid to talk to their parents about alcohol. That’s why it’s so important for parents to take the lead in having regular, open conversations about underage drinking.

Talk it Out NC can help you talk to teens about drinking alcohol.

Whether you’re looking for a good way to bring up the subject with your 8-year-old or your teenager, you can find great age-appropriate tips for starting the conversation about alcohol on You’ll also find underage drinking facts, a library of useful webinars from experts in the field, resources to guide you if you believe your child is already drinking, and much more. Our underage drinking survey demonstrates why talking to your teenager about drinking is of the utmost importance. Start the Conversation today!