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You may have heard about a growing trend. Teenagers today are drinking less than previous generations.

While it’s true that overall rates of teen drinking have gone down, and real progress has been made, underage drinking remains a persistent problem.

Teen drinking is linked to risky behavior and injury. In 2020

  • 33.6% of 12th graders and 20.3% of 10th graders reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
  • 16.8% of 12th graders and 9.3% of 10th graders reported binge drinking in the last two weeks.
  • 16.7 % of high school students reported that they had been in a car with a drinking driver in the past 30 days and 5.4% of high school drivers admitted driving after drinking.
  • 15 % of underage drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher.

We can reduce teen drinking by stopping teens’ easy access to alcohol. But we need your help to continue making progress.

Teens who drink alcohol – a whopping 74% – usually get it for free. They get it from family members and friends, at parties, or by taking it without permission from their home or someone else’s. Among those who paid for the alcohol, most persuaded an unrelated person to buy it for them.

We Don’t Serve Teens (DontServeTeens.gov) has tools and information to help parents, schools, and communities reduce underage drinking by not supplying or serving alcohol to teens.

Please don’t provide alcohol to teens.
It’s unsafe. It’s illegal. It’s irresponsible.

About the Campaign

We Don’t Serve Teens is a consumer education campaign developed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. All program materials are available in both English and Spanish and provided free of charge. Use our messages and materials to reduce underage drinking in your community! Some of the organizations that promote the We Don’t Serve Teens message include alcohol retailers, distributors/wholesalers, and suppliers; alcohol regulatory agencies; and state and local law enforcement.

21 is the legal drinking age

The legal drinking age is 21 in all 50 states. Why? Because drinking can impair a teen’s judgment and puts them at risk of physical harm and dangerous behavior. Delaying the time when drinking starts can significantly improve young people’s health, now and into the future.

You may recall a time when teen drinking was widespread. For example, back in 1984, two-thirds of high school seniors were current drinkers, and one-third reported binge drinking. That year, the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act was adopted, setting the legal drinking age at 21. After that, drinking by high school seniors started a gradual decline, as shown by this graph.

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Long-term Reduction in Alcohol Use by 12th Graders, 1984-2020

The Result?

Today, most teens don't drink.

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Percent Reporting Alcohol Use by Grade

Data collected for the year 2020 by the Monitoring the Future survey research group revealed that, even among high school seniors:

  • 66% haven’t had alcohol in the past 30 days,
  • 80% haven’t gotten drunk in the past 30 days, and
  • 83% haven’t engaged in binge drinking in the past two weeks. (“Binge” drinking means having 5 or more drinks on a single occasion. This level of drinking is associated with increased risk of dangerous behavior and injury.)

As a result, they are protected from the things that can happen to teens who drink.
We’ve made real progress, but there is more work to do. We need your help to continue keeping young people safe. Everyone has a role to play in building healthy communities that foster bright futures for young people. 

Want to know more about underage drinking laws in your area?

State and local governments adopt and enforce legal drinking age laws, including laws pertaining to underage possession, consumption, and purchase. Check out the alcohol laws in your state.

What can happen to teens who drink?

Underage drinking costs lives. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), underage drinking is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths among people under 21 every year. This includes deaths due to motor vehicle accidents (approximately 1070 deaths per year), homicide (1000), suicide (600), poisoning (400), and drowning (100).

Underage drinking causes harm now. According to CDC, teens who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • Injuries from alcohol-related traffic crashes and other accidents, including falls and burns.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • School problems, including absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting or lack of participation in youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrests for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth or sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Memory problems.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.

In general, the risk that teens will experience these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge.

For some, underage drinking causes problems later in life. Research shows teens who began drinking before age 15 are 5 times more likely to report having alcohol use disorder in the past year, as compared to those who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking.

All of these are reasons why it is important to {stop easy teen access to alcohol}.

For further information about the risks of underage drinking, visit SAMHSA.

Alcohol Laws by State

All states prohibit providing alcohol to persons under 21, although states may have limited exceptions relating to lawful employment, religious activities, or consent by a parent, guardian, or spouse. Among states that have an exception related to such family member consent, that exception often is limited to specific locations (such as private locations, private residences, or in the parent or guardian’s home.) No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. In addition, many states have laws that provide that “social hosts” are responsible for underage drinking events on property they own, lease, or otherwise control, whether or not the social host actually provides the alcohol.

For more information about the laws in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia visit the Alcohol Policy Information System website, a project of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Alcohol advertising regulation

Most alcohol advertisers have pledged to comply with one of three voluntary self-regulatory codes designed to limit targeting of teens.

For more information about the codes, visit, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Beer Institute and the Wine Institute.

If you believe that an ad doesn't comply with codes, consider filing a complaint. You can submit a complaint with:

If you spot a deceptive business practice, or a scam, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. We can't resolve your individual report, but we use reports to investigate and bring cases against fraud, scams, and bad business practices.

Alcohol Retailers Can Help Reduce Teen Drinking

Alcohol retailers play an essential role in reducing teen access. They can take steps to make sure that teens can’t buy alcohol from their stores, and they can serve as a source of information to reduce the possibility that alcohol will end up in a teenager’s hands. Tools for retailers to meet these goals are on this page.

Responsible retailing practices are key to preventing illegal alcohol sales. But it takes more than just telling your staff not to sell to minors. Responsible retailers need specific policies, backed up by training and accountability, that enable staff to say, “If I sell to you, I’ll lose my job.”

The RRForum, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible retailing of age-restricted products, prepared the following list of recommended practices to reduce underage sales and service of alcohol by off-premise alcohol beverage licensees. Every retailer should consider these practices. The list is not all-inclusive, and retailers may have additional approaches that reduce illegal underage sales.

RRForum Recommended Practices for Off-Premises Alcohol Retailers.

Create and maintain sales and service policies that every staffer should follow

Each establishment should have a written policy that identifies steps that staff must take for every transaction, including:

  • What perceived age triggers an ID check?
  • What are acceptable forms of ID and when is second form of ID required?
  • What should be done if an ID appears to be fake or a 3rd party sale (“shoulder tap”) is suspected?
  • When and how should a sale be refused?
  • What recordkeeping and supervisor notification are required when problems occur?
  • What should be the consequences when staff fail to check ID?
  • Important note: State and local laws should be included in the policy, for all employees to read and understand.

Train staff and management on the alcohol sales policy

All staff should be trained before being permitted to sell alcohol. Training should include:

  • Information on the risks of underage use of alcohol;
  • Pertinent local and state laws;
  • Every aspect of the store policies; and
  • Role-playing on how to request and ID and deny a sale in a non-confrontational manner.
  • Local laws may set additional requirements.
  • Training for managers should also include supervision and training of clerks and strategies to insure adherence to these practices.

Training messages should be reviewed and reinforced periodically. Important note: If training is segmented – for example, if a new hire receives in-person training by a manager, followed by in-depth training within 30 days – that employee should be carefully monitored because research shows that newly-hired employees are more likely to sell alcohol to an underage customer.

Provide the right tools

Providing appropriate tools is important in helping staff with responsible sales. These tools should be used in the most appropriate combination, considering all circumstances.

  • Program registers to recognize age-restricted product sales and prompt cashiers to require ID.
  • If possible, program registers to read IDs electronically and calculate age or use a stand-alone electronic scanner or “black light” wand in states in which these technologies can determine the authenticity of an ID.
  • If built-in or stand-alone electronic ID is not possible, use a specialty calendar showing birthdate/years eligible to buy.
  • Provide a current ID guidebook that shows valid ID formats for all states and US territories.

Note: Prominently display signs giving notice that your establishment checks IDs to help staff assert company policy and deter underage sales attempts.

Monitor staff conduct

Licensees should rigorously monitor staff performance as a quality control strategy, as follows:

  • “Mystery shop” inspections – attempted purchases by trained contractors to trigger the establishment’s ID-checking requirement – provide staff and managers with feedback on staff performance and whether store policies are being followed.
  • Mystery shop inspections can be supplemented by review of point-of-sale video tapes and cash register data or other internal monitoring systems.
  • Mystery shopper results and the results of law enforcement compliance checks should be reviewed promptly with all staff – not just with the individual clerk who waited on the mystery shopper.
  • Feedback to staff members who fail to check IDs should include counseling and re-training. The consequence for a 2nd failure may include suspension with or without pay or termination. Immediate positive feedback to staff members who successfully check IDs is important and can include tangible gifts and public recognition.

Use security practices to reduce underage theft

Use theft deterrent equipment and/or a floor plan that keeps alcohol shelves and coolers unobstructed for store management and staff and permits staff to monitor customers and reduce alcohol theft.

Keep records

Document all training, mystery shops, and law enforcement compliance checks. Results of mystery shop inspections, compliance checks, and disciplinary actions should be placed in the personnel records of staff. Keep an unusual occurrence log and any related video. These records may be used for communicating front line challenges to management, for personal recognition programs for employees, and to show company responsibility. Appoint a high-level employee to oversee the store’s compliance with laws concerning the sale and marketing of age-restricted products and these recommended practices.

Communicate with the public

Be a community asset. Retailers serve their communities when they post information about the legal age of purchase and express the importance of preventing teen access to alcohol. Post signs about your ID checking policies at the entrance and near registers where age-restricted products are sold. Establish working relationships with local law enforcement. Get involved in industry associations and the community to express a commitment to prevent underage sales and use. And since responsible retailing may shift underage access to social sources (like family and friends), the community can benefit from learning how important it is that adults not furnish alcohol to underage individuals.

Don’t market alcohol to youth

Alcohol products should not be displayed in an area that contains products likely to be purchased by youth, such as sodas, snack foods or energy drinks – especially since some alcohol products look like non-drinks. Free product sampling may be inappropriate if youth are permitted in the store. Don’t advertise alcohol products in college or high school publications, or outdoors near schools or playgrounds.

Remember that responsible retailing is a management responsibility

Every aspect of responsible sales and service of alcohol imposes a responsibility on management to oversee and respond.

Stop Easy Teen Access to Alcohol

One way to prevent teens from drinking is to cut off easy access to alcohol. The vast majority of 12th graders report that alcohol is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to get. What’s more, most teens who drink report that they do not even have to pay for the alcohol – a whopping 74%. How did they get it? From family and friends, unrelated persons 21 or older, at parties, or by taking it without permission.

Here’s what you can do to reduce easy teen access to alcohol:

  • If you are a parent or guardian, be a resource for your teen. Data shows that teens continue to care what their parents think, even while they are in high school and college.
  • Talk with teens about what they would do if faced with a difficult decision about alcohol and drugs. Practice saying “no thanks” with them in a safe environment and keep it low-key.
  • When in doubt, lock it up. Make sure teens can't access alcohol in your home without your knowledge. Unmonitored alcohol, including alcohol stored in a cabinet, basement or garage, can be a temptation.
  • Let your friends and neighbors that the minimum drinking age is a policy that protects teens, and ask them to discourage underage drinking.

What about alcohol advertising?

Ads are everywhere – on your phone, on television, in the bus, on the street – and alcohol advertising is no exception.  

As so many ads do, alcohol ads often associate their brands with what look like cool people leading exciting lives. These ads have elements that are specifically chosen to communicate ideas like: this product is for people like me; this alcohol product makes occasions better; this product is popular and stylish; and, people want to be seen drinking this product. Add it up and these elements come together to say: if I use this product, I can be cool and successful like the people in the ad.

Decoding the ads

Adults in the community can help teens understand that all ads – including those for alcohol – are designed to make the product look great. But using media literacy tools in teachable moments can help teens pull apart the elements of an ad and really understand what’s behind them. 

Pick an ad and have a discussion using some of these questions:

  • Who do you think created or paid for the ad? Why?
  • What do they want you to do?
  • What techniques is the advertiser using to make their product look good? 
    • Does the ad try to link the brand with fun, or sports, or humor? How?
    • Does the ad suggest that alcohol somehow makes the situation better?  If so, how?
    • What values and lifestyles are represented by this ad?
    • How does this ad make you feel? Is this an accident, or did the advertiser intend it?
    • What message is the ad trying to get you to believe?
  • What isn’t the ad saying? Does it show anything bad about alcohol? 

Conversations around questions like these can help teens better understand that ads communicate the advertiser’s point of view. And discussion like this can help teens learn how to challenge what an ad is saying, at least internally – and realize they don’t have to buy in to an advertiser’s message.

What can you say to people who think teen drinking is not a serious problem?

Despite the law, the statistics, and the science, some people still think teen drinking is not a serious problem. Here are some of the more common questions and assertions you may hear from neighbors and friends — and how you can respond. Please share.

Q. All the other kids drink alcohol. How can teens fit in if they don’t drink?

  • In fact, most teens don’t drink. This includes 66.4% of 12th graders, 79.7% of 10th graders, and 90.1% of 8th graders. So, when it comes to fitting in, not drinking is the way to go.

Q. How does my opinion matter? Teens don’t listen to their parents anyway.

  • In fact, parents have a significant influence on youth decisions about alcohol consumption. Around 80% of young teens feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol, and a parent’s attitudes about alcohol use continue to influence drinking decisions even after a teen has left for college. 

About the Campaign

We Don’t Serve Teens is a consumer education campaign developed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency. All program materials are available in both English and Spanish and provided free of charge. Use our messages and materials to reduce underage drinking in your community!  Some of the organizations that promote the We Don’t Serve Teens message include alcohol retailers, distributors/wholesalers, and suppliers; alcohol regulatory agencies; and state and local law enforcement.

DontServeTeens Messages You Can Use

Sample Facebook Posts

  • Don’t give underage drinking an excuse. DontServeTeens.gov has tools and information to help parents, schools, and communities reduce underage drinking by stopping easy teen access to alcohol.

  • Most teens don’t drink! Let’s keep it that way. DontServeTeens.gov has tools and information to help parents, schools, and communities prevent easy teen access to alcohol. 

  • Underage drinking remains a persistent problem. Teen drinking is linked to risky behavior and injury. DontServeTeens.gov has tools and information to help parents, schools, and communities reduce underage drinking by stopping easy teen access to alcohol.

Sample Tweets

  • Most teens don’t drink! Let’s keep it that way. DontServeTeens.gov has tools and information to help parents, schools, and communities prevent easy teen access to alcohol.

Spread the Word

Help spread the word about how to reduce teen drinking: DontServeTeens.gov

Yearly, 188,000 kids under 21 go to the ER with alcohol-related probs. Don’t serve alcohol to teens. DontServeTeens.gov

Teen alcohol use causes death from poisoning, burns, falls, drowning, suicide. Don’t serve alcohol to teens. DontServeTeens.gov

Hospital admissions for teen alcohol use (2008): 40,000; cost per average 5 day visit: $19K. DontServeTeens.gov

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