Underage Drinking

What is underage drinking?

Underage drinking in when someone 20 or under consumes alcohol. In the state of North Carolina, you must be 21 to buy, consume, or possess any type of alcohol.

What is excessive drinking?

 Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking and binge drinking.

For women:

      • Heavy drinking = 8 or more drinks in a week
      • Binge drinking = 4 or more drinks in 2-3 hours (or a single occasion)

For men:

      • Heavy drinking = 15 or more drinks per week
      • Binge drinking = 5 or more drinks in 2-3 hours (or a single occasion).

What is a standard drink in the United States?

Drinks packaged or sold in larger sizes will contain more than one drink.

How many youth consume alcohol?

Among U.S. youth, alcohol is the number one used and misused drug and kills more young people under the age of 21 than all other illicit drugs combined.

In the most recent Youth Risk Survey administered in Pitt County, 20% of high school students said they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days (compared to 30% nationally).


Pitt Co. High School Students Consumed Alcohol in Last 30 Days

What are the negative consequences of youth drinking alcohol?

In North Carolina, the underage consumption of alcohol costs taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. Alcohol is one of the most common contributors of injury, death and criminal behavior among youth.

Youth who consume alcohol are more likely to:

      • Be absent from school and have poor grades.
      • Get in fights.
      • Not participate in youth activities.
      • Get arrested for drunk driving.
      • Have unplanned and unprotected sexual activity.
      • Be physically or sexually assaulted.
      • Have a risk of suicide or homicide.
      • Get into alcohol-related car crashes.
      • Misuse other drugs.
      • Die from alcohol poisoning.

How do youth get the alcohol they drink?

Youth report getting alcohol many different ways. However, the easiest place to get alcohol is from their home (with or without their parents’ knowledge). To prevent this, keep track of your supply in your home and use bottle locks for wine or liquor.

Youth also report getting alcohol from an older brother or sister or an older friend. Some youth report having fake IDs to buy it themselves.

Did You Know?

  • That the average age that youth in North Carolina take their first drink is 14.
  • In North Carolina, one person dies every week as a result of underage drinking.
  • 67 percent of teens who drink before the age of 15 will go on to use illegal drugs.
  • Adults who started drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to abuse alcohol than adults who didn’t drink until they were 21.

Resources for Parents

Start the conversation with your child.

      • Prepare Yourself – (for the conversation)
      • Know the Facts – Establishing a baseline knowledge is critical for educating your child on the harmful effects of underage drinking. Be clear and establish rules for not drinking underage. Make sure your child knows that drinking or purchasing alcohol before the age of 21 is illegal.
      • Start Talking Early – Preferably before or during middle school
      • Talk Regularly – Make talking a priority, once talking becomes a habit it will. become more natural for both you and your child
      • Be there for your child if they have questions and be supportive – This is the reason why knowing the facts are so important
      • EDUCATE – Be sure that your child understands the dangers of excessive binge drinking… blackouts and accidents are more likely to occur

Lock up your alcohol!

Magnet - The Easiest Place to Get Beer

Signs your child might be drinking…

      • Mood changes
      • School problems
      • Rebellion against family rules
      • Change in who they hang out with
      • Generally not caring about things – looks, involvement in things that used to interest them, low energy
      • Finding alcohol in their room or smelling it on their breath
      • Physical or mental issues – slurred speech, lack of coordination, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes

Please note that while these may be signs of a problem with alcohol or other drugs, some reflect normal adolescent behavior. Experts believe that noticing several of these signs at the same time or if they suddenly occur, that is more likely to indicate a problem.



  • Bonnie, R.J. and O’Connell, M.E., editors. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
  • CDC (2017). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2017. MMWR, 67(SS-8).
  • CDC (2018). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. Available online at https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm.
  • CDC (2018). Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking. Available online at https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm.
  • Miller, J.W., Naimi, T.S., Brewer, R.D., Jones, S.E. (2007). Binge drinking and associated health risk behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics,119:76–85.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (2017). Parent Resources. Available online at www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/parent-resources.
  • Talk it Out (2018). Available online at https://www.talkitoutnc.org/.

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