Underage drinking is a dangerous pastime of many high school and college students. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 11 percent of the alcohol in the United States is consumed by underage drinkers and over 90 percent of underage drinkers have engaged in binge drinking [1]. While underage drinking may seem inconsequential in the short-term, it can present serious long-term problems.

Factors that Contribute to Underage Drinking

There are a variety of factors that contribute to young people engaging in underage drinking. Some of the key factors include [2]:

  • Stress
  • Peer Pressure
  • Increased Independence with Age

Often times, parents and family members may be unaware of some of the common signs that indicate that a teen may be involved in underage drinking. Common signs of underage drinking include [3]:

  • Extreme and frequent mood fluctuations
  • Academic issues (e.g. poor grades, disciplinary action, and lack of attendance)
  • Increased rebellion
  • Changing appearance
  • Lack of involvement in favorite activities
  • Decreased energy
  • Possession of alcohol
  • Alcohol-related issues (e.g. poor coordination, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, etc.)

Underage Drinking and Long-term Substance Misuse

The legal drinking age is 21 because the adolescent mind is not mature enough to handle the effects of alcohol. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls decision-making and higher order thinking, does not fully mature until the mid-20s [4]. Since alcohol interferes with decision making, drinking alcohol can hinder the brain from fully maturing so it can eventually handle the effects of alcohol. The interference with decision-making can make young people who are involved with underage drinking decide to abuse more serious drugs.

Alcohol can be perceived to alleviate negative emotions. For adolescents who use alcohol to deal with the negative emotions associated with hormone fluctuations run the risk of becoming psychologically dependent on it. Addiction is a physiological and psychological disease, and developing the psychological dependency on a substance can be the first step in prolonged addiction.

Consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to building a tolerance. Tolerance can lead to increased consumption. This can also contribute to the physiological component of addiction.

Prevention and Treatment

Addiction is a progressive disease. Seeking help for it in its early stages can prevent it from progressing further and evolving into a lifelong struggle with addiction. Parents, educators, and other adults should be aware of the signs of underage drinking in order to catch the problem early. If an adolescent becomes afflicted by addiction, there are many resources that they can turn to for help.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/UnderageFact.htm
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/parent-resources/how-tell-if-your-child-drinking-alcohol
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2014/07/15/health/science-drinking-age/index.html