Primary Navigation for the CDC Website
CDC en EspaƱol
Email Icon Email this page
Printer Friendly Icon Printer-friendly version
bullet Home
bullet Quick Stats
bullet Online Tools
bullet FAQs
bullet Public Health Objectives and Guidelines
bullet Surveillance
bullet Additional Resources
bullet Alcohol Team Publications
bullet About CDC's Alcohol Team

Contact Info
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Alcohol and Public Health
4770 Buford Hwy, NE
Mailstop K-67
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717

bullet Contact Us


Quick Stats
Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age

photo of group of teenagers

Public Health Problem

  • Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to more than 4,600 deaths among underage youth, that is, persons less than 21 years of age, in the United States each year.1
  • Underage drinking is strongly associated with many health and social problems among youth including alcohol-impaired driving, physical fighting, poor school performance, sexual activity, and smoking.2
  • Most underage youth who drink do so to the point of intoxication, that is, they binge drink (defined as having five or more drinks in a row), typically on multiple occasions.2
  • Current drinking during the previous month among persons aged 18 to 20 years declined significantly from 59% in 1985 to 40% in 1991, coincident with states’ adopting an age 21 minimum legal drinking age, but increased to 47% by 1999.3
  • The prevalence of current drinking among persons aged 21 to 25 also declined significantly from 70% in 1985 to 56% in 1991, but increased to 60% by 1999.3

Relationship Between Youth and Adult Drinking

  • Binge drinking by adults is a strong predictor of binge drinking by college students living in the same state.4
  • There are approximately 1.5 billion episodes of binge drinking among persons aged 18 years or older in the United States annually, most of which involve adults age 26 years and older.5
  • More than half of all active duty military personnel report binge drinking in the past month, and young adult service members exposed to combat are at significantly greater risk of binge drinking than older service members.6
  • More than 90% of adult binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent.7

Prevention of Underage Drinking

  • The Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends implementing and maintaining an age 21 minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) based on strong evidence of effectiveness, including a median 16% decline in motor vehicle crashes among underage youth in states that increased the legal drinking age to 21 years.8
  • The Task Force on Community Preventive Services also recommends enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors to reduce such sales.9
  • Age 21 MLDA laws result in lower levels of alcohol consumption among young adults age 21 years and older as well as those less than age 21 years.10
  • States with more stringent alcohol control policies tend to have lower adult and college binge drinking rates.4
  • In addition to the age 21 MLDA, other effective strategies for preventing underage drinking include increasing alcohol excise taxes11 and limiting alcohol outlet density9. Youth exposure to alcohol marketing should also be reduced.11


  1. CDC. Alcohol Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Available at Accessed on September 3, 2008.
  2. Miller JW, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Jones SE. Binge drinking and associated health risk behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics 2006;119:76-85.
  3. Serdula M, Brewer R, Gillespie C, Denny C, Mokdad A. Trends in alcohol use and binge drinking 1985–1999, results of a multistate survey. Am J Prev Med 2004; 26:294–298.
  4. Nelson T, Naimi T, Brewer RD, Weschler H. The state sets the rate: the relationship of college binge drinking rates to state binge drinking rates and state alcohol control policies. Am J Pub Heath 2005;95:1–6.
  5. Naimi T, Brewer RD, Mokdad A, Serdula M, Denny C, Marks J. Binge drinking among U.S. adults. JAMA 2003;289:70–5.
  6. Jacobson IG, Ryan MAK, Hooper TI, Smith TC, et al. Alcohol use and alcohol-related problems before and after military combat deployment. JAMA 2008;300:663–675.
  7. Woerle S, Roeber J, Landen MG. Prevalence of alcohol dependence among excessive drinkers in New Mexico. Alc Clin Exp Res 2007;31:293–298.
  8. Shults RA, Elder RW, Sleet DA, Nichols JL, Alao MO, Carande-Kulis VG, Zaza S, Sosin DM, Thompson RS. Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. Am J Prev Med 2001;21(4S):66–88.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol. Guide to Community Preventive Services Web site. Available at* Accessed September 3, 2008.
  10. O’Malley PM, Wagenaar AC. Effects of minimum drinking age laws on alcohol use, related behaviors, and traffic crash involvement among American youth: 1976–1987. J Stud Alcohol 1991;52:478–491.
  11. Bonnie RJ, O’Connell ME, eds. Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2004.

* Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at this link.

Page last reviewed: September 3, 2008
Page last modified: September 3, 2008
Content source: Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

  Home | Policies and Regulations | Disclaimer | e-Government | FOIA | Contact Us
Safer, Healthier People

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A
Tel: (404) 639-3311 / Public Inquiries: (404) 639-3534 / (800) 311-3435 The U.S. Governments Official Web PortalDHHS Department of Health
and Human Services