How Many Minors Really Drink?

Underage drinking statistics show prevention and intervention efforts are still needed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) At least one in four teens in the US has consumed alcohol in the past month and at least one in 12 has purchased it. It’s time to think about health and safety, and lower those numbers.

A recent study surveyed adolescents all over the US about whether they had consumed and/or purchased alcohol in the past month. The study’s findings showed rates varied greatly state by state.

"Talk to your kids about drinking."

The US public health agency, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) just released data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on underage drinking. Pamela S. Hyde, SAMHSA administrator, said, “Underage drinking should not be a normal part of growing up. It’s a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger.”

“Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury and even death.”

NSDUH surveyed 12-20 year-old American adolescents in each state from 2008-2010 on alcohol and drug consumption during the month prior to the survey.

Overall, 27 percent of American youths admitted to drinking at least once in the previous 30 days. A total of 9 percent of surveyed adolescents admitted to purchasing alcohol themselves.

The highest rates of underage drinking occurred in the following states:

  • Vermont: 37 percent
  • New Hampshire: 36 percent
  • North Dakota: 35 percent
  • Montana: 34 percent
  • Rhode Island: 34 percent
  • Colorado: 33 percent
  • Connecticut: 32 percent
  • Massachusetts: 32 percent
  • Oregon: 32 percent
  • New York: 32 percent


Utah had the lowest rate of underage drinking with 14 percent, but the next closest was Tennessee with 21 percent.

The highest rates of underage consumers purchasing alcohol occurred in the following states:

  • New York: 15 percent
  • Louisiana: 14 percent
  • Connecticut: 13 percent
  • North Carolina: 13 percent
  • District of Columbia: 11 percent
  • Rhode Island: 11 percent
  • Mississippi: 11 percent
  • Kentucky: 11 percent
  • Alabama: 11 percent
  • Missouri: 10 percent

The lowest rates of underage alcohol purchase were found in New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho, which were between 2.5-3 percent.

SAMSHA funds community-led underage drinking prevention efforts throughout the US to help further reduce illegal and unsafe alcohol consumption.

This report was published in November on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website.

SAMHSA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, a public health agency funded by the US government.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 27, 2012
Last Updated:
December 3, 2012