Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Epidemic | CASAColumbia

Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic

Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic

Published: February 2003

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Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among America’s teens, and underage drinking is a serious problem that can have deadly consequences. Teenagers who drink are more likely than those who do not to have sex, to have sex at an earlier age and to have sex with multiple partners. Alcohol damages the young brain, interferes with mental and social development and interrupts academic progress. It is a major contributing factor in the 3 leading causes of teen death—accident, homicide and suicide—and increases the chances of juvenile delinquency and crime.


CASAColumbia’s work for this report involved:

  • A nationally representative telephone survey of 900 adults regarding underage drinking and policies aimed at addressing it
  • A series of focus groups of adults with and without children under the legal drinking age
  • Statistical analyses of 4 national data sets
  • Examination of a wide variety of strategies to reduce underage drinking, and of the state of underage drinking prevention and treatment
  • A review of approximately 500 publications


This report found that more than 5 million high schoolers engaged in binge drinking at least once a month and that the gender gap that used to exist among underage drinkers had disappeared. CASAColumbia’s survey of adults found that:

  • 76% believed parents should be held legally responsible for teen drinking
  • 85% called for restrictions on home delivery of alcohol
  • 74% supported restrictions on alcohol advertising
  • 54% supported increasing taxes on alcohol

This report also includes an analysis of the media role in the underage drinking problem.

Underage drinkers were identified as a critical segment of the alcohol beverage market. Because most heavy and problem drinkers begin drinking before they reach age 21, underage drinking is key to the profitability of the alcohol industry. Individuals who began drinking before age 15 were found to be 4 times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who began drinking at age 21, and the prevalence of lifetime alcohol abuse was greatest for those who began drinking at age 14.

This report is the most ambitious assessment of the extent and consequences of underage drinking in America and documented the pathways to use and abuse of alcohol by children and teens. It identifies obstacles that have hampered efforts to prevent underage drinking, including the economic interests of the alcohol industry in teen beer and other alcohol consumption, the ready availability of alcohol to minors, parental attitudes and the influence of the media and advertising.


This report includes recommendations for parents, policymakers, educators and prevention experts. These recommendations include holding parents legally responsible for their children’s alcohol use, prohibiting all alcohol ads from appearing on television and funding addiction treatment programs for adolescents.

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