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Facts About Alcohol

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about underage drinking and resources where you can get more information.

What Is Underage Drinking?

Why Is Underage Drinking Dangerous?

How Many Tweens and Teens Are Drinking?

What Is Binge Drinking?

What Is a Drink?

Are Beer and Wine Safer Than Liquor?

How Can I Say No?


What Is Underage Drinking?

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Underage drinking occurs when anyone under age 21 drinks alcohol in any amount or form.

Underage drinking is not smart because:

  • It’s dangerous; and
  • It’s against the law, except in special cases, such as when it is part of a religious ceremony.

In 1984, the federal government enacted the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which calls for reduced federal transportation funds—the money that states use to build and repair their highways—to those states that did not raise the minimum legal drinking age to 21. Today, drinking by anyone under age 21 is against the law in every state, the District of Columbia, and Guam (a U.S. territory).


Why Is Underage Drinking Dangerous?

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Underage drinking is a major cause of death from injuries among young people. Each year, approximately 4,700 people under age 21 die as a result of underage drinking.1 Causes include alcohol poisoning; suicide; homicide; traffic crashes; and injuries from burns, falls, and other harms.

It can harm the growing brain. Today we know that the brain continues to develop from birth through the adolescent years and into the mid-twenties.2

Diagrams and facts about alcohol and brain development

It can affect the body in many ways. The effects of alcohol range from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning.

It can lead to other problems. Young people who use alcohol also are more likely to smoke and use other drugs. Those who begin drinking before age 15 also are far more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults.3

It affects how well a young person judges risk and makes sound decisions. For example, after drinking, a teen may see nothing wrong with driving a car or riding with a driver who has been drinking. But, before drinking, the teen might realize the riskiness involved.

It plays a role in risky sexual activity. People do things when they are under the influence of alcohol—even a small amount—that they would not do when they are sober, including having sex even when they didn’t want to and had not planned to do so.4 This behavior can increase the chance of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.


How Many Tweens and Teens Are Drinking?

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The vast majority of tweens and teens do not use alcohol. In 2012, only 2.2 percent of 12- or 13-year-olds, 11.1 percent of 14- or 15-year-olds, 24.8 percent of 16- or 17-year-olds, and 45.8 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported any use of alcohol during the past month.5

Don’t be taken in by myths, rumors, and the opinions of others about how many youth drink. Get the facts from sources you can trust.

For more statistics and information, visit The Cool Spot.


What Is Binge Drinking?

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Binge alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days (from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking on at least 5 days in the past month.

As more youth recognize the risks of binge drinking, fewer are doing so. For example, about 41 percent of 12th-grade students engaged in binge drinking in 1983. In 2011, this percentage had dropped to 22 percent—or almost cut in half.6


What Is a Drink?

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A drink can come in many forms. It can be a shot of hard liquor or a mixed drink containing vodka, rum, tequila, gin, scotch, or some other liquor. It can also be wine, a wine cooler, beer, or malt liquor.

A standard drink is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). This is the amount of alcohol usually found in:

  • One 12-ounce beer;
  • One 4- to 5-ounce glass of wine; and
  • One 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor.

Below are U.S. standard drink equivalents. These are approximate, since different brands and types of beverages vary in their actual alcohol content.

12 oz. of beer or wine cooler 12 ounce of beer or wine cooler
12 oz.
8–9 oz. of malt liquor
8.5 oz. shown in a 12-oz. glass that, if full, would hold about 1.5 standard drinks of malt liquor
an 8 ounce glass
8.5 oz
5 oz. of table wine a 5 ounce glass
5 oz.
3–4 oz. of fortified wine
(such as sherry or port) 3.5 oz. shown
a 3.5 ounce glass
3.5 oz.
2–3 oz. of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
2.5 oz. shown
2.5 ounce glass
2.5 oz.
1.5 oz. of brandy
(a single jigger)
a 1.5 ounce brandy glass
1.5 oz.
1.5 oz. of spirits
(a single jigger of 80-proof gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.) Shown straight and in a highball glass with ice to show level before adding mixer.
a 1.5 ounce highball glass
1.5 oz.

 


Are Beer and Wine Safer Than Liquor?

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No. Alcohol is alcohol. It can cause you problems no matter how you consume it. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine (about a half cup) has as much alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.


How Can I Say No?

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Resisting peer pressure to drink isn’t always easy. But you have the right to say no, the right not to give a reason why, and the right to just walk away from a situation.

Look for tips on saying no at The Cool Spot.


Sources

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: Author.

2, 4 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Underage drinking: A growing health care concern.

3, 5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Author.

6 Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national results on drug use: 2012 overview: Key findings on adolescent drug use.Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.