How Alcohol is Killing America’s Young People

Alcohol death

Around the world, we treasure our young people. We pin our hopes and dreams on each one of them from the first days we kiss their chubby toes. Every new development, from first steps to first date, from first day of kindergarten to graduating from school, is celebrated. We try to convince them to stay away from dangerous drugs like heroin or pills but we may overlook an incredibly deadly drug that’s readily available in nearly every one of our towns and most of our homes: alcohol.

While some parents are adamant about their kids refraining from alcohol consumption, others aren’t so fussy. If their kids have an alcohol-fueled party at home, they may take a tolerant view, even providing some supplies so the kids can party “safely” at home.

Many parents fully expect their kids to drink—after all, they did when they were their kids’ ages. Given the number of young Americans who lose their lives to alcohol every year, this tolerance might be a really terrible idea. We’re going to look at some of the facts and figures and see just how bad this idea might be.

Teen Deaths Increasing

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen deaths resulting from injuries began to climb in 2014. Injury deaths include those from accidents, homicides and suicides. This was after fourteen years of declining statistics. Injury deaths include those from alcohol-related causes, including suicide-related deaths, are shown in the graphs below.

Figure 1. Total injury and noninjury death rates for children and adolescents aged 10–19 years: United States, 1999–2016
Total injury and noninjury death rates for children and adolescents aged 10–19 years: United States, 1999–2016

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has estimated that thousands of these teens and young adults (under 21) are losing their lives each year in alcohol-related incidents:

  • 1,580 deaths from motor vehicle crashes
  • 1,269 from homicides
  • 245 from alcohol poisoning, falls, burns, and drownings
  • 492 from suicides

According to the IOGT (International Organisation of Good Templars), the earlier a child begins to consume alcohol, the worse their consequences from alcohol use, which often include these damaging or even deadly effects:

  • Addiction to alcohol
  • Traffic accidents
  • Violence, either initiated or received
  • Unintentional injuries

Ninety percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under 21 is drunk during sessions of binge drinking. This excessive period of drinking increases the chance of a deadly result.

Losses of College-Aged Young Adults

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more youth in college drink than their non-collegiate counterparts. Sixty-two percent of college students drink, compared with 56% of the same-aged young adults who are not in college. These college students also mix their alcohol with energy drinks more often, with 32% combining these drinks. When a person consumes an energy drink with a high caffeine content along with alcohol, they don’t get sleepy or tired as they might as they begin to get drunk. This is problematic because they can stay alert and drink even more than they otherwise would.

Again according to the NIAAA, 1,544 college students die each year in alcohol-related incidents. There are nearly 700,000 assaults and 97,000 sexual assaults.

Alcohol Overdoses

Many people don’t realize that they can die as a direct result from an alcohol overdose. Alcohol in high dosages is a depressant, meaning that it slows down the body’s breathing and heart rate. A highly intoxicated person is also liable to vomit and inhale their vomit which can result in death. While this cause of death is most common among older adults, 5% of those dying this way are between ages 15 and 24, and 13% are between 25 and 34.

These deaths are more common in Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Alcohol-Related Illnesses

Most people know that the liver really takes a beating when you drink heavily and consistently. A 2018 study of drinkers suffering from potentially fatal liver damage resulting from alcohol consumption found that more people are dying from this problem at a younger age. This study found that deaths from liver-related illnesses have increased dramatically, and deaths among young people were rising the fastest. The number of people aged 25 to 34 dying from this problem nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016. Rather than people dying from liver disease when they are in their 50s as used to happen, more people in their 20s or 30s are experiencing this problem.

Other research found that women who binge drink in high school and college interfere with their bone growth that should peak in the middle of their 20s. As a result, they risk winding up with less dense, less healthy bones.


How important is it to discourage your teen from drinking? Here’s one viewpoint:

“People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.”

“People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.” That alone is a good reason to monitor teens’ activities for any signs they are drinking at home or in other locations.

Riding with Impaired Drivers

This is yet another way that young people surrounded by a culture of alcohol consumption could meet their end. A survey of young adults who had recently graduated from high school found that one in five had accepted a ride with an alcohol-impaired driver in the last year. In this scenario, the person who is injured or loses his life may not have touched a drop of alcohol himself or herself.

Education Is Key to Solving this Problem

Educating young man

When it comes to the harm that can result from binge drinking at a young age, it’s not something you want to learn “the hard way.” That’s why it’s so vital for parents to have multiple conversations with their kids about alcohol. Youth must realize that these various harms could happen to them and that drinking at an early age or binge drinking at any age could change their lives forever.

In America, it is very easy to get alcohol and its use is frequently seen in television shows and movies. Teens and young adults under 21 may feel more grown-up when they drink and have no perspective on the way this habit could harm them. It’s up to parents, teachers, extended family and other authorities like coaches to ensure this education is received early and thoroughly. It could save our young peoples’ lives.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.