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Underage Drinking Costs
Select a state to view underage drinking costs.

To view the methodology used for the Cost Analysis click here.

Tragic health, social, and economic problems result from the use of alcohol by youth. Underage drinking is a causal factor in a host of serious problems, including homicide, suicide, traumatic injury, drowning, burns, violent and property crime, high risk sex, fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol poisoning, and need for treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence.

Problems and Costs Associated with Underage Drinking in the United States

Costs of Underage Drinking

Underage drinking cost the citizens of the United States $62.0 billion in 2010. These costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from the use of alcohol by youth. This translates to a cost of $2,070 per year for each youth in the State or $3.17 per drink consumed underage. Excluding pain and suffering from these costs, the direct costs of underage drinking incurred through medical care and loss of work cost the United States $25,131 million each year or $1.29 per drink. In contrast, a drink in the United States retails for $1.22.

 

Costs of Underage Drinking by Problem, the United States, 2010

Problem

Total Costs
(in millions)

Youth Violence

$35,094.5

Youth Traffic Crashes

$9,955.9

High-Risk Sex, Ages 14-20

$5,184.0

Youth Property Crime

$5,138.5

Youth Injury

$2,133.3

Poisonings and Psychoses

$657.0

FAS Among Mothers Age 15-20

$1,307.2

Youth Alcohol Treatment

$2,574.9

Total

$62,045.2

Youth violence (homicide, suicide, aggravated assault) and traffic crashes attributable to alcohol use by underage youth in the United States represent the largest costs for the State. However, a host of other problems contribute substantially to the overall cost. Among teen mothers, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) alone costs the United States $1,307 million.

Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and are two and a half times more likely to become abusers of alcohol than those who begin drinking at age 21. In 2009, 64,831 youth 12- 20 years old were admitted for alcohol treatment in the United States, accounting for 8% of all treatment admissions for alcohol abuse in the country.

Alcohol Consumption by Youth in the United States

Underage drinking is widespread in the United States. Approximately 12,529,000 underage customers in the United States drink each year. In 2009, the United States students in grades 9-12 reported:

  • 72.5% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days during their life.
  • 21.1% had their first drink of alcohol, other than a few sips, before age 13.
  • 41.8% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more occasion in the past 30 days.
  • 24.2% had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row (binge drinking) in the past 30 days.
  • 4.5% had at least one drink of alcohol on school property in the past 30 days.

In 2009, underage customers consumed 16.2% of all alcohol sold in the United States, totaling $23,791 million in sales (in 2010 dollars). These sales provided profits of $11,651 million to the alcohol industry.1

Annual sales of alcohol consumed by youth in the United States averaged $1,899 per underage customer. Underage customers were heavier consumers than adults. They drank an average of 4.3 drinks per day; in contrast, legal customers consumed only 1.6.

Harm Associated with Underage Drinking in the United States

Underage drinking in the United States leads to substantial harm due to traffic crashes, violent crime, property crime, unintentional injury, and risky sex.

  • During 2009, an estimated 1506 traffic fatalities and 36,963 nonfatal traffic injuries were attributable to driving after underage drinking.
  • In 2009, an estimated 1844 homicides; 949,400 nonfatal violent crimes such as rape, robbery and assault; and 1,811,300 property crimes including burglary, larceny, and car theft were attributable to underage drinking.
  • In 2007, an estimated 359 alcohol involved fatal burns, drownings, and suicides were attributable to underage drinking.
  • In 2009, an estimated 28,161 teen pregnancies and 937,972 teens having risky sex were attributable to underage drinking.

 


Produced by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), September 2011.

1. Levy, D.T., Miller, T.R., & Cox, K.C. (2003). Underage drinking:  societal costs and seller profits.  Working Paper.  Calverton, MD:  PIRE.
2. Grant, B.F., & Dawson, D.A. (1997). Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 9: 103-110.
3. Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment Episode Data Set. (2011). Substance Abuse Treatment by Primary Substance of Abuse, According to Sex, Age, Race, and Ethnicity, 2009. Available [On-line]: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/studies/30462.
4. Center for Disease Control (CDC). (2011). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Available [On-line]: http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx.