Underage Drinking

Facts about Underage Drinking & Driving

If you feel like you’re bombarded with messages about drinking and driving, and you’re not sure what to think about it, you’re not alone. Read on to arm yourself with the facts you need to make smart choices as a teen driver.

Underage drinking is illegal for a lot of good reasons, one being the dangers of drinking and driving. Teen drivers are less likely than adults to drink and drive – and most don’t – but they’re more likely to crash if they do. What’s more, even “just” one drink can make a teen driver more dangerous behind the wheel and lead to arrest – or worse.

According to one study, 28 percent of teens said within the past 30 days, they had ridden in a car with a driver who had consumed alcohol. This is dangerous – and potentially deadly. Don’t become a statistic. Avoid riding as a passenger with someone who has been drinking. And never drink and drive yourself!

  • Approximately 5,000 people under age 21 die as a result of underage drinking every year, and 1,900 of those deaths are the result of traffic crashes.
  • One in 10 teen drivers report drinking and driving themselves.
  • In 2010, 20 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol in their systems. Eighty-one percent had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels higher than the legal limit for adults. While it is illegal for adults to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher, it is illegal for anyone under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol.

One way to avoid being a passenger of someone who is drinking and driving is to ask your parents to help you get out of an uncomfortable situation. It’s a safe bet that your parents would prefer to get a call from you asking for a ride home from a party rather than one from a police officer reporting you’ve been hurt in a crash.

Did you know a teen’s body is unable to process alcohol the same way an adult body does? This means underage drinking can pose unique risks to your health in addition to those caused by drinking and driving. Here are a few ways alcohol can cause teens potentially long-term and life-changing harm:

  • Problems thinking and concentrating
    • Your brain is still developing and changing during your teen years. Studies have found that drinking while you’re younger can cause long-term harm to thinking and concentration abilities.
  • Addiction or dependence
    • The younger you are when you start drinking, the greater your chance of becoming addicted to alcohol at some point in your life. In fact, people who begin drinking before they’re 15 years old are five times more likely to be alcoholics later in life.
  • Death
    • Underage drinking can lead to death, plain and simple. Each year, approximately 5,000 young people die from alcohol-related injuries, whether they occur in a vehicle, at a party or elsewhere. These deaths are preventable – say no, and skip the alcohol!

Peer pressure happens when you feel like you’re being pushed to do something you don’t really want to do, like underage drinking. Your actions today can affect your life years later, so stand up to peer pressure and say no with confidence. Chances are that when you do, people won’t give you a hard time.

Need Some Suggestions for How to Say No?

  • “No, thanks. I’m trying to stay in shape.”
  • “I’m okay. I don’t like the taste of alcohol.”
  • “No thanks, I don’t want to lose my car.”
  • “Thanks, but I’m going to see a movie instead.”
  • “I said I didn’t want any – don’t ask me again.”

Parents can get a bad rap for ruining all the fun, but their job is to keep you safe and healthy. Talk to your parents about your questions and concerns regarding underage drinking. They could have insights or ideas that you haven’t thought of. You can talk to other adults, too, like your school’s guidance counselor, a trusted teacher or a family friend.

For more information, here are a few other websites worth checking out:

National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking; Bonnie RJ, O’Connell ME, editors.Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US), 2004. 11, Alcohol in the Media: Drinking Portrayals, Alcohol Advertising, and Alcohol Consumption Among Youth.

Office of Applied Studies. The NSDUH Report: Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 2012. Available at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k11Results/NSDUHresults2011.htm.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Cool Spot: The Young Teen’s Place for Info on Alcohol and Resisting Peer Pressure. National Institutes of Health, 2012. Available at http://www.thecoolspot.gov/index.asp.

Miller JW, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Jones SE. Binge drinking and associated health risk behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics 2007;119:76–85. Office of Applied Studies. The NSDUH Report: Alcohol Dependence or Abuse and Age at First Use.Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, October 2004. Available at http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k4/ageDependence/ageDependence.htm.