Risks for Teens

Some effects of underage drinking happen right away while others wait to appear later in life. Even if you trust your children and how they act, there are still many things you should know.

For a printable copy of this information, see Risks for Teens.

Physical and Emotional Risks

According to The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (2007), underage drinking:

Sexual Activity

In Vermont, out of the 8th – 12th grade students who reported having had sex, one in five said they used alcohol before their most recent sexual experience.

Alcohol Dependence

Youth who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. Studies have shown that two out of five kids who begin drinking before age 15 will develop alcohol abuse or dependence at some point in their lives. When they wait until they are 21, the risk for alcohol dependence drops to only one out of ten.

Developmental Problems

Some studies suggest that alcohol can cause long-term changes in the body. Alcohol may interfere with memory function and make it harder for a child’s brain to perform important functions.

The front area of the brain affects healthy thinking and plays a big role in personality and behavior. This part of the brain undergoes dramatic change during adolescence and alcohol use gets in the way of this development and can cause lifelong side effects.


Because alcohol hurts the brain's ability to think logically and solve problems, it also plays a major role in teenage injuries and deaths. Alcohol-related traffic crashes are the leading cause of death and disability among teenagers. Alcohol is also a major factor in other leading causes of violence, unintentional injuries, risky sexual behavior, homicide and suicide.


Over three out of ten adolescent and adult suicide victims (attempted or completed) test positive for alcohol.

Legal Risks

Vermont has a range of penalties for minors caught drinking.

First Offense

Ages 16 – 20

In Vermont, teens who lie about their age or use a fake ID to buy or drink alcohol are given the option of completing the teen alcohol safety program run by the county court diversion program. Those who choose not to participate in the Teen Alcohol Safety Program or who fail to complete the program receive a civil violation that results in a $300 fine and a 90-day suspension of the teen’s driver’s license. If a teen does not pay the fine, their license is suspended until the fine is paid. That usually means a huge rise in insurance premiums.

Under age 16

Children under age 16 are ordered to appear in family court with their parents or guardians and may receive fines and other penalties. The state's attorney may refer them to the Court Diversion program.

Second Offense

Teens who are caught for a second or third violation can be charged with a criminal offense. A state’s attorney may refer teens to their county’s Court Diversion Program. Youth convicted in District Court can receive up to $600 in fines and be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail. Their driver’s license is also suspended for 120 days.

Violations Behind the Wheel

First Offense

Drivers under 21 who are pulled over with a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher receive a 6-month suspension on their license and must complete a training program called CRASH. This is a civil violation.

Second Offense

Drivers pulled over for a second time with a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher will have their license suspended until their 21st birthday, or for one year, whichever is longer. This is a civil violation.

Any underage drivers pulled over with a blood alcohol level of .08 or above are charged with an adult DUI—a criminal offense.

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