underage drinking

Underage drinking is a serious problem affecting the health and lives of many young people across the United States. Alcohol consumption is at a high rate among youth but the problem of underage drinking has many facets and components which compose the whole picture. Let’s take a journey of exploration to discover the history of underage drinking and why it is a problem.


Statistics of Underage Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports nearly half of America’s teenagers have had at least one drink by age 15 with percentage increases to 70% by age 18. Young people between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 11% of alcohol in the United States. Young people drink less than adults but more often binge drink (consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion). The NIAAA estimates 6.9 million young people had five or more drinks in the same occasion at least once in the past month, perhaps more.


History of Underage Drinking

The legal drinking age in the United States was raised to 21 years of age due to the passage of the National Drinking Age Act of 1984. Many shifts have occurred in regards to teenage drinking. Due to an increase in societies pushing for the outlawing of alcohol, the 18th amendment was passed in 1919 to usher in the era of Prohibition. Prohibition ended with the passage of the 21st amendment in 1933 where the drinking age was established at 21 years of age. By 1984, backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), all 50 states raised the legal drinking age to 21 years old. Nearly 17,000 lives have been saved since the passage of the act. Others feel the culture and climate of underage drinking is hidden and underground, creating a dangerous surge in binge drinking behavior and higher rates of alcoholism in youth.


European Laws

Some discussion around lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 years of age has been bolstered by proponents of the European laws which generally have lower drinking ages. Common perceptions abound that young people in European countries are introduced to alcohol in more cultural and familial contexts which reduces harmful binge drinking. Young people miss out on the familial contexts where responsible and moderate drinking is the norm and accepted behavior.


Discussion of Underage Drinking

The combination of familial context along with ingrained cultural norms and taboos concerning drinking may be one way to interpret data from European countries. A complex host of factors play into these numbers including genetics, personality and environmental factors. While some laws may be effective, other levels of intervention such as school-based intervention and efforts to empower and improve familial communication with youth can aim to make changes to the ways young people view alcohol and drinking.


Hired Power provides families with resources to help teens struggling with addiction to alcohol. Call us at 800-910-9299 to find out how we can help your teen stop drinking.