Most Americans Have Their First Drink Far Below Legal Age, According To New Research

The younger a teenager is when they start drinking, the more likely they’ll be to indulge in binge drinking.

Most Americans who drink alcohol are in their teens when they take their first drink, and new research indicates that the younger they are when they take their first drink, the more prone they’ll be to binge-drinking and other dangerous alcohol-related behaviors.

A network of alcohol treatment facilities polled 1,000 Americans who drink alcohol and asked them about when they had their first drinks, their experiences with alcohol, and how those experiences informed their drinking habits. The results are shocking.

Starting Drinking At An Early Age

Although the legal drinking age in all of the 50 states is 21, a majority of Americans (excluding those who don’t drink) have their first drink well before that. In fact, the age with the most respondents (34 percent) saying they took their first drink at that age was 16. Only 9 percent had their first drink at 21, and only 3 percent waited until even later.

Looking at early drinking even further, the drink of choice for most Americans’ first drink was beer (47 percent), followed by mixed drinks (25 percent), straight liquor (15 percent), and wine (11 percent), with wine coolers and malt beverages coming in at 1 percent each.

And as for why teenagers took that first drink: Of course, the old bugaboo peer pressure played a role, but most respondents stated that they took their first drink for no other reason than curiosity.

Early Drinking Informs Later Alcohol-Related Problems

Perhaps not surprisingly, the earlier one starts drinking, the more likely that person will be to have alcohol-related problems later in life.

Take binge drinking, for example. The substance abuse industry considers “binge drinking” as consuming five or more drinks in a row. And as the graph below shows, starting alcohol consumption earlier generally correlates to binge drinking later.


Nearly 30 percent of respondents say they wish they’d waited until later in life to have their first drink. Several gave anecdotes about how their early drinking affected them. For example, a man who took his first drink at age 15 now has a criminal record.

“I got a DUI when I was 18 and lost my license. In turn, I kept driving and was caught multiple times, which led me to be a felon due to being a habitual traffic offender. Had I started drinking later in life, I still may have been able to vote or own a firearm.”

As the nation focuses its collective attention on the opioid crisis, the country’s health and education apparatus can’t overlook the old bugaboo of alcohol, either, especially when it comes to teenagers.

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