Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age 21. Annually, about 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking. About 1,900 (38%) of the 5,000 deaths involve motor vehicle crashes, about 1,600 (32%) result from homicides, and about 300 (6%) are caused by suicides.1
Persons reporting first use of alcohol before age 15 are more than five times as likely to report past-year alcohol dependence or abuse than persons who first used alcohol at age 21 or older (16% compared with 3%).2
Underage alcohol use increases the risk of academic failure, illicit drug use and tobacco use. It can cause a range of physical consequences, from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning. It can cause alterations in the structure and function of the developing brain, which continues to mature into the mid to late 20s and may have consequences reaching far beyond adolescence.3
About 45% of fatalities in crashes involving a drinking driver under the age of 21 are people other than the driver.4
1 Office of the Surgeon General. (2007). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (PDF 1.41MB) Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, p. 10.
2 Office of Applied Studies, SAMHSA. (2004). Alcohol dependence or abuse and age at first use.
3,4 The NSDUH Report. Office of the Surgeon General. (2007). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (PDF 1.41MB) Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, p. 11.