Underage Drinking and Graduation Season

Last Updated on October 23, 2023

2 young people drink alcohol on a bench

Graduation is a time to celebrate accomplishments and look forward to new and exciting adventures. When the celebrations venture into underage drinking, which commonly happens when young people are in celebratory moods, dangerous situations can develop.

Why Do Teens Drink?

Graduation season typically sees increases in alcohol use and abuse among underage people. There are proms, graduation parties, homecoming events, and more, all happening when the weather is warming. Young people are looking forward to the end of school and the start of vacation.

The party atmosphere is infectious, and frequently, people under 21 experiment with alcohol. Aside from celebratory events like graduation, teens may choose to drink for a variety of reasons:1

  • Risk-taking: Adolescents tend to take more risks, one of which may include underage drinking. The brain continues to develop well into a person’s 20s. Research suggests this lengthy period of development may explain why teens are more prone to risk-taking.
  • Increased independence: As teens get older, they naturally gain more independence and the strength of their connection with parents may decrease.
  • More time spent with friends: Teens may spend much more time with their peers or alone than they do with parental figures. This may result in more opportunities to engage in underage drinking.
  • Stress: As teens age, the levels of stress they face may increase. This is often a result of social relationships with friends and boyfriends or girlfriends, expectations from parents, school performance, homework, and exams, and getting into college.
  • Parental influence and home environment: Teens with family problems or a stressful home life are more likely to abuse alcohol. If a parent struggles with alcohol addiction, that may also affect the way teens in the house view alcohol and other addictive substances.

Underage Drinking Statistics

If you’re wondering how common underage drinking is in the United States, these statistics will provide you with a better understanding.

  • Despite the strict drinking laws for young people in the United States, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth under 21 years old, in the United States.2
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4,300 underage people die every year due to excessive drinking.3
  • Young people between the ages of 11 and 20 years old consume 11 percent of all the alcohol in the United States.4
  • Binge drinking, a common drinking behavior among young people, accounts for more than 90 percent of underage alcohol consumption.4
  • In 2010, about 189,000 visits to emergency rooms by people under 21 years old were attributed to alcohol.5
  • In a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, high school students admitted that in the last 30 days:
    • 35% consumed alcohol
    • 21% reported binge drinking
    • 10% drove a vehicle after drinking alcohol
    • 22% rode in a vehicle with a driver who had consumed alcohol6
  • About 45% of people who die in car crashes involving a drinking driver under age 21 are people other than the driver.1

What Are Signs of Underage Drinking?

Parents who are alert and diligent can help minimize underage drinking episodes and the consequences. When your child knows you’re savvy and looking out for the signs of drinking and ready to apply consequences if rules are disobeyed, you’re gaining an edge that can help your child avoid temptations and stay safe.

Look for these signs of underage drinking:

  • Problems with grades or behavior issues in school
  • Socializing with a different group of friends
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Less attention to appearance
  • Smelling alcohol on breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion
  • Lack of focus
  • Memory problems

What Are the Risks of Underage Drinking?

teenage girl is depressed due to her alcohol addiction

Besides the obvious, where youths can injure themselves and others by drinking and driving, other risks are involved as well.

  • Risky behavior: Drinking impairs a person’s judgment, and underage drinking can lead to further risky behaviors, like unprotected sex or angry outbursts leading to injuries and arrests.
  • Dangerous situations: Once an underage person is under the influence, they are more vulnerable to dangerous situations and people. The risk of being mugged, sexually assaulted, or beaten, resulting in serious harm, increases greatly.
  • Health risks: Research shows young people who drink heavily put themselves at risk for many health problems. During adolescence, the brain is still developing. Teens who abuse alcohol are more likely to experience long-lasting cognitive impairment from alcohol as they age.7 Young people can also suffer from liver damage from abusing alcohol, as well as critical hormone imbalances that affect the development of organs, muscles, bones, and the maturation of the reproductive system.8,9
  • Alcohol addiction: Underage drinking leading to an alcohol problem later in life is also a risk. Research shows that people who drink before 15 years old are four times more likely to have alcohol dependence later in life.

Maybe you’re a teen and you’re reading this wondering, “What happens if you get caught drinking at 18?” or “What happens if you get caught in a bar under 21?

Well, it’s safe to say the legal consequences for underage drinking are severe. They can have long-lasting and negative impacts on a teen’s life. These consequences typically include:

  • Restricted extracurricular activities
  • Suspension from school and/or team sports
  • Community service
  • Mandatory classes about alcohol awareness
  • Fines
  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Jail time

Underage drinking can also have direct consequences for those who aren’t drinking.

  • In some states, parents may face criminal charges if they knowingly give minors alcohol or allow them to drink on their property.
  • Underage drinking can lead to property damage and violence that harms other members of the community.
  • Car crashes that involve underage people who have been drinking can injure or kill other people on the road.

How to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking

As individuals and communities, we all have a responsibility to prevent and reduce underage drinking. Although there are several different ways we can go about this, it’s important to recognize that the process takes time.

On an individual level, we can prevent and reduce underage drinking by:

Setting clear rules against underage drinking at home and consistently enforcing them.

Closely monitoring the behavior of children and teens in the household. Talking to our kids about the risks and health problems associated with underage drinking.

  • Being good examples by consuming alcohol responsibly or by not drinking it at all.
  • Supervising all parties.
  • Encouraging kids to participate in fun activities that don’t involve alcohol.
  • Not making alcohol available.

As a community, we can prevent and reduce underage drinking by:

  • Organizing community groups to educate community members and change the way people think about underage drinking.
  • Vigorously enforcing existing laws that are designed to reduce underage drinking.
  • Using community and school-based prevention programs to educate teens about the risks and penalties for underage drinking.
  • Supporting programs that help teens and young adults who are alcohol dependent.
  • It’s important to be tuned in, especially during graduation season, to young people who may be drinking.

Being vigilant, while letting young people know you’re watching, can go a long way in preventing underage drinking or heading off alcohol issues before any serious consequences arise.

Treatment for Underage Drinking Problems and Alcohol Addiction

If left untreated, teen alcohol abuse can progress into alcohol addiction in early, middle, and late adulthood. Once a teen is dependent on alcohol, the problem won’t just go away. It will get worse and progress with time.

If a young person is addicted to alcohol, parents can take him or her to the doctor for screening. A doctor or pediatrician will be able to identify the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction and address them early before they escalate into a more serious addiction.

If a child or teen is diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, their doctor may recommend ongoing treatment in the form of:

  • Individual or group counseling sessions for addiction recovery
  • Family therapy to encourage group healing and healthy communication/coping
  • Prescription medication to reduce alcohol cravings

Often, alcohol addiction is not addressed until adulthood after severe consequences have already been experienced. In those instances, long-term alcohol addiction treatment is a highly effective way to overcome alcohol addiction. Nova Recovery Center offers individualized 90-day drug rehab in Austin for adults and an intensive outpatient rehab in Austin, Texas (IOP) as well as online IOP. Our Austin alcohol rehab center is located in the serene Hill Country with certified and experienced addiction treatment professionals on staff.

At Nova, we use evidence-based addiction treatment methods and the 12-Step Program to address deep-seated addictions and help people establish new, sober lives. These methods include:

We also offer medical detox and Austin sober living programs through our sister companies Briarwood Detox Center and Eudaimonia Recovery Homes.

If you’re addicted and you need treatment to recover, we’re here to help. Call today to speak with an admissions representative about alcohol addiction treatment for adults in Austin, Texas.


  1. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/underage-drinking-community-guide.pdf
  2. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/
  3. https://nccd.cdc.gov/DPH_ARDI/default/default.aspx
  4. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm
  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12638993/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11584156/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11910704/
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