Alcohol Misuse and Abuse in Massachusetts

The Consequences and Costs of Underage Drinking

In 2013, underage drinking cost the residents of Massachusetts $1.3 billion in medical costs, work loss, and costs associated with pain and suffering. Broken down, this represents a cost of $1,834 per youth each year, or $3.48 for every drink consumed by an underage youth. Even if we consider only tangible costs (property damage and criminal justice costs, as opposed to pain and suffering), the total still comes to $384.9 million each year, or $1.13 per drink, whereas a drink retails in Massachusetts for $1.01.1

The Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), looked at the various harms related to underage drinking in Massachusetts:2

  • In 2012, an estimated 8 homicides, 12,700 nonfatal violent crimes (e.g., rape, robbery, assault), 13,100 property crimes (e.g., burglary, larceny, car theft), and 245,000 public order crimes (e.g., vandalism, disorderly conduct, loitering, curfew violations) were attributable to underage drinking.
  • In 2011, an estimated four alcohol-involved fatal burns, drownings, and suicides were attributable to underage drinking.
  • In 2013, an estimated 303 teen pregnancies and 16,378 occurrences of high-risk sex among teens were attributable to underage drinking.

The 2013 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) revealed the following:3

  • 7% of high school students have driven while under the influence of alcohol
  • Males have done so at nearly double the rate of females (9.2% and 5.4%, respectively)
  • Almost one in five high school youth (18.3%) have ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol

In addition, an estimated 18 traffic fatalities and 1,051 non-fatal traffic injuries in 2012 were attributable to driving after underage drinking.2

Youth violence and car crashes comprised the largest costs for the state in 2013:

Mass. Costs of Underage Drinking

Who Pays and Who Benefits?
The external costs of underage drinking in Massachusetts are chilling. Unfortunately, the alcohol industry has not had to share the burden of these costs. In 2013, underage youth consumed 9.3% of all alcohol sold in Massachusetts, resulting in profits to the alcohol industry of $168 million.1

Use of Alcohol by Underage Youth

High School

Underage drinking among high school youth in Massachusetts has declined significantly in the last decade. Findings from the 2013 Massachusetts YRBS:3

  • Lifetime use of alcohol by high school students has declined, from 76% in 2007 to 63% in 2013
  • Current or past 30-day use rates have declined by more than 10%, from 48% in 2007 to 36% in 2013
  • Eleven percent of high school students had their first drink before the age of 13 (average age of onset)
  • Almost one-fifth of students (19%) reported binge drinking in the past 30 days; these numbers increased with grade level (9% for freshman vs. 29% for seniors)

Ninth-graders were significantly less likely to report lifetime and/or current alcohol use than students in all other grades: 3

Mass. High School Lifetime Current Use

The rates for lifetime use, current use, and current binge drinking among Massachusetts high school students are illustrated below:

High School Alcohol Use 2005-2013

Middle School

Findings from the 2013 Massachusetts YRBS:3

  • Lifetime use of alcohol has declined, from 24% in 2007 to 18% in 2013
  • Current use rates declined by almost half, from 11% in 2007 to 6% in 2013
  • Both lifetime use (10% for 6th-graders, 30% for 8th-graders) and current use (2% for 6th-graders, 10% for 8th-graders) increase with age
  • Binge drinking in the past 30 days decreased by half, from 4% in 2007 to 2% in 2013

Rates of lifetime use, current use, and current binge drinking among Massachusetts middle school students are illustrated below:

Middle School Alcohol Use 2007-2013

Perception of the Harm or Risk of Alcohol Use by Underage Youth

In 2012–2013, close to two in three (65.8%) of Massachusetts youth ages 12–17 perceived no great risk in drinking five or more alcoholic drinks once or twice a week.5 This is 5% higher than the national average:

Mass. Perception of Risk