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Updated on September 4, 2023
5 min read

Who Alcohol Use Disorder Affects - Teenagers

Alcohol Abuse by Teenagers

A young adult’s teenage years are often a period of growth and exploration. However, this can also involve experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Teenage drinking accounts for 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.7 More than 90% of this is binge drinking, wherein a person downs alcohol quickly to get drunk for recreational purposes.7

Because getting alcohol isn't difficult, many teens ignore or don't recognize the health risks. Teenagers may even feel more willing to try alcohol and binge drink despite health and safety risks.

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Can a Teenager Be Addicted to Drinking Alcohol? 

Anyone, even young people, can be susceptible to substance abuse. Underage drinking is a risk factor for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Here are some statistics:

  • According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 401,000 teenagers aged 12 through 17 have AUD.10
  • In a 2006 nationwide survey of more than 43,000 adults, researchers found an association between early-age drinking and the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence before the age of 25.4
  • Approximately 47% of the study subjects who ever experienced alcohol dependence could have been first diagnosed by age 21.4

What are the Effects of Underage Drinking?

Different factors affect the likelihood of underage drinking. However, the consequences remain the same.

Drinking alcohol at a young age can lead to various short and long-term consequences. Many of these side effects can be reversed with treatment, but some damages can be permanent.

Short-Term Side Effects

Oftentimes, alcohol can impair a person’s judgment and increase the risk of injury. Other short-term side effects of underaged drinking include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Participating in risky behavior (drunk driving, unsafe sex, etc.)
  • Increased risk of violent behavior
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Sexual or domestic abuse
  • Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a grave concern. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may rise approximately 30 to 40 minutes after teenagers stop drinking. Those who drink heavily risk fatal alcohol poisoning without realizing it.

Long-Term Side Effects

Alcohol misuse is the leading cause of death and disability for those aged between 15 and 49.8 Continuous alcohol abuse can lead to long-term side effects and consequences later in life, particularly:

  • AUD
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Liver damage or liver cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hepatitis
  • Legal issues
  • Premature death and disability

Teenage Alcohol-Related Accidents & Deaths

In 2011 alone, approximately 188,000 people under 21 went to the emergency room for alcohol-related injuries. Around 5,000 young people under 21 die each year from underage drinking, with deaths relating to the following:7

  • 1,900 from car crashes
  • 1,600 from homicide
  • 300 from suicide
  • 100s from falls, burns, and drownings
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How to Know if a Teenager Suffers from Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction may manifest through many symptoms and signs. Some of the most common indicators include:

  • Mood swings (anger and irritability)
  • Academic or behavioral issues
  • Defiance
  • Establishing new groups of friends or peers
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased interest in regular activities or appearance
  • The smell of alcohol on the breath
  • Memory lapse or trouble focusing
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems
  • Intense cravings to drink alcohol 
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
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Risk Factors for Underage Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Social and biological factors contribute to alcohol addiction. Since each person is different, the causes of underage alcohol abuse can vary.

Social Factors

Various social and environmental factors can influence the likelihood of someone developing alcoholism. This link is especially true for children who grew up with alcoholic parents.

Teenagers may turn to underage drinking due to the following social factors:

  • Peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Cultural background
  • Financial instability
  • Accessibility to alcohol

Biological Factors

Research shows the adolescent brain is more vulnerable to addiction when exposed to alcohol than adults. Because alcohol is a depressant, some teenagers may use it to self-medicate.7

Biological factors include:

  • Mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Cognitive impairments or memory loss
  • Historical trauma
  • Family history of substance abuse or alcoholism
  • Genetics

According to one study, those with a family history of alcoholism were four to ten times more likely to develop alcoholism than those without.7

How to Deal with Teenage Alcoholism

Various options are available for addressing teenage alcohol misuse. Talk to a healthcare professional to find the right treatment program for your teen. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or a school counselor can provide the necessary resources.

Some options you may consider include:

Because teenagers (unless they're 18 or above) are not legal adults, compulsory commitment to rehab is an option in some states. Learn more about other approaches here.

It will also help if you learn more about alcohol addiction and its side effects. This initiative can guide you in identifying concerning signs and symptoms requiring immediate medical attention.

Signs of an Alcohol Overdose

An alcohol overdose occurs when there’s too much alcohol in the bloodstream, interrupting areas of the brain that control basic life-supporting functions. Alcohol poisoning or an alcohol overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. 

If left unchecked, an alcohol overdose can be fatal. Signs include:

  • Mental confusion or stupor
  • Difficulty staying conscious or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing or irregular breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses
  • No gag reflex
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Pale, gray, or bluish skin color

Summary

Underage alcohol consumption happens due to various social and biological factors. In some cases, teens drink to rebel, experiment, or relax.

However, some underage drinkers are genetically predisposed to develop a drinking problem or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Environmental factors like peer pressure or stress can also influence underage drinking.

Fortunately, various treatment options and programs can help a teen recover from AUD. All these resources are available to provide support when a medical emergency happens.

Updated on September 4, 2023
11 sources cited
Updated on September 4, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020.
  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, 2018.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  4. Hingson et al. “Age at Drinking Onset and Alcohol Dependence.” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 2006.
  5. Johnston et al. "Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2019." Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 2020.
  6. Substance Use Disorders.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Underage Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2006.
  8. Underage Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.
  9. Quello et al. “Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorder: A Complex Comorbidity.” Science & Practice Perspectives, 2005.
  10. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020.
  11. College Students and the Dangers of Binge Drinking.” University of Rochester Medical Center, n.d.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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