Two police officers in dark uniforms are handcuffing a young person wearing a white top and blue jeans. One officer holds the person's hands behind their back while the other officer holds a beverage can

Increased NoCo Youth Substance Access Fuels Use and Harm

Increased NoCo Youth Substance Access Fuels Use and Harm

As a nonprofit aimed at reducing impaired driving, part of our work is to consider many societal and legal factors that impact rates of impaired driving among youth and young adults ages 14-25 (the most at-risk age group). We are concerned about recent legislation involving the sale of wine in grocery stores, paired with reduction in grocery store staff and high staff turnover, that has led to an alarming increase in underage access to alcoholic beverages.

A young woman wearing a white-and-green striped shirt and numerous bracelets scans a wine bottle at a self-checkout register

In 2022, Coloradoans narrowly voted to pass Proposition 125, allowing retail sales of wine in grocery and convenience stores. The timing of this legislative change coincided with post-pandemic staffing challenges that are ongoing, including chronic labor shortages and high staff turnover rates.


Compared with liquor stores, grocery and convenience stores:

  • Have a smaller ratio of staff to customers
  • Provide less staff training
  • See higher staff turnover rates
  • May hire employees as young as 14 years old (liquor store staff must be 21 or older)
  • May employ self-checkout machines, making it more difficult for store employees to scrutinize alcohol purchases
  • See much higher rates of shoplifting


While it is a well-known fact that impaired driving is a leading cause of accidents, injuries, and fatalities, the broader implications of youth substance use are often overlooked. In fact, a peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse states “the ease of access to tobacco, alcohol, and certain illicit drugs has been recognized as one of the main underlying causes of the current substance use epidemic among America’s youth with adolescents’ perceptions of the ease of access to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs being shown to significantly increase their risk for use.”


This blog delves into the various risks associated with easy access to alcohol and drugs among youth, highlighting the urgent need for greater understanding of this issue, more effective educational programs, and mindful legislation.

A group of seven teens are gathered outside near a brick building and a metal staircase. They are casually dressed, wearing jeans, hoodies, and jackets. Most are holding red plastic cups and appear to be engaged in conversation.

Increased Risk of Injury or Death

One of the most immediate dangers of youth access to alcohol and drugs is the heightened risk of injury or death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is a factor in about 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year. When young people consume alcohol, their lack of experience with its effects can lead to risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence, engaging in violent activities, or making poor decisions that can result in accidental injuries or fatalities.


Impaired Judgment

Alcohol and drugs impair cognitive functions, leading to poor decision-making and risky behaviors. For youth, whose brains are still developing, the impact is even more significant. Impaired judgment can result in dangerous activities, such as unsafe sexual practices, physical altercations, and other high-risk behaviors. These actions not only pose immediate threats but also have long-term consequences on their health and well-being.


Interrupted Brain Development

The teenage brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drugs. Research shows that substance use during adolescence can interfere with normal brain development, leading to lasting cognitive deficits. Areas such as memory, attention, and executive function can be permanently impaired, affecting academic performance and future employment opportunities. The earlier and more frequently substances are used, the greater the potential for lasting damage.

Two police officers in dark uniforms are handcuffing a young person wearing a white top and blue jeans. One officer holds the person's hands behind their back while the other officer holds a beverage can

Legal Consequences

Engaging in underage drinking or drug use often leads to legal troubles. From minor in possession charges to DUI arrests, these legal issues can have far-reaching effects on a young person’s future. A criminal record can limit educational and employment opportunities, impacting life trajectories in profound ways. Furthermore, involvement with the legal system can also lead to strained family relationships and a diminished sense of self-worth.


Difficulty in School

Substance use is closely linked to academic difficulties. Students who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to have lower grades, increased absenteeism, and higher dropout rates. The effects of substance use, such as impaired memory and concentration, make it challenging to keep up with schoolwork. Additionally, the social dynamics surrounding substance use can lead to associations with peers who do not prioritize education, further exacerbating academic struggles.



One of the most insidious risks of early substance use is the potential for addiction. The younger a person begins using alcohol or drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition that requires long-term treatment and support. It affects not only the individual but also their family, friends, and the community. Early intervention and prevention are crucial to reducing the prevalence of addiction.


The ease of access to alcohol and other substances poses significant risks to our youth, affecting their immediate safety and long-term health and success. Substance use, and by extension substance access, by youth is a serious public health concern.


As a nonprofit dedicated to combating impaired driving and its associated dangers, we urge parents, educators, policymakers, and communities to take a proactive stance. By implementing thoughtful regulations, providing comprehensive education, and fostering supportive environments, we can reduce impaired driving and promote responsible, informed decision-making among our youth.


No DUI Larimer encourages all of our readers: Educate yourself about how substances affect you and how you can avoid driving impaired – take charge of your future. Make the Right Call.


Follow No DUI Larimer on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ways you can combat impaired driving in our community.




Scroll to Top