Teen Drinking in Europe Vs. the United States

Updated: Apr 19



Why the “European Model” Does Not Work


Because excessive youth drinking is so prevalent, many Americans wonder if we should look to European countries as a model. They argue that European teens learn to drink responsibly because they have the opportunity to use alcohol in family settings from a young age. Many believe that this early exposure also helps remove the forbidden status of alcohol that makes it seem so appealing to rebellious youth. Shouldn’t teens who grow up with alcohol learn that they can take it or leave it? Well, studies show that this myth in not based in fact. According to “Youth Drinking Rates”, teens in European countries tend to drink much more frequently and get drunk much younger than teens in the United States.  

Europe Vs. the United States  

Drinking rates in past 30 days:

Compared to European countries, the US had the lowest teen drinking rate of all, except Iceland, within in the past 30 days. While only about 33 out of every 100 teens had at least one drink within the past 30 days in the U.S, European rates ranged from 42% (42 out of every 100) teens drinking within the past 30 days in Norway and 80% (80 out of every 100) teens having at least one drink in the past 30 days in Denmark and Austria.   


Intoxication of 15 and 16 year-olds in the last 30 days: 

The U.S. also has fewer cases of intoxication among 15 and 16 year olds than over half of Europe’s countries. About 18 out of every 100 15-16 year olds in the United States had gotten drunk within the past 30 days of this survey. 20 out of every 100 15-16 year olds reported being drunk within the past 30 days in Switzerland and Norway. And finally, 49 out of every 100 15-16 year olds in Denmark had been drunk within the past 30 days.  

Intoxication before the age of 13:

Besides Italy and Portugal, the U.S. (along with Belgium and the Netherlands) has the lowest rate of intoxication before the age of 13. Only 8 out of every 100 15-16 year olds reported being drunk before the age of 13 in the U.S. This means that less than a tenth of U.S. teens had been drunk before reaching 13. After the U.S., Switzerland, Iceland, and France have the next lowest rate of youth intoxication with 9 out of every 100 of their 15-16 year olds having been intoxicated before the age of 13. From here, youth intoxication rates steadily climb until they hit a high of 25 out of every 100 15-16 year olds having been drunk before 13 in Denmark.  

Conclusion: 

Of the European countries for which there is data, the only one that has a legal drinking age of at least 20 is Iceland. Iceland was also the only country to have a lower teen drinking rate within the past 30 days than the U.S. and also had the second lowest rate of intoxication before the age of 13. On the other hand, countries with a legal drinking age of 16 or 18 typically saw much higher rates of teen drinking at both a young age and on a regular basis. 



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