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Underage Drinking Statistics

Though progress is being made, underage drinking remains a persistent problem. According to the 2018 NSDUH, about 7.1 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 report current alcohol consumption; this represents nearly 20% of this age group for whom alcohol consumption is illegal. Among 12-20 year olds, reported rates of past month consumption, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol consumption have declined steadily from 2009 to 2018.

According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, alcohol consumption continues to show significant longer-term declines among the nations’ 8th, 10th and 12th graders. For the three grades combined (8th, 10th and 12th) the proportion of students reporting lifetime, annual, past month alcohol consumption, and binge drinking are at the lowest levels since the study began (41 percent, 36 percent and 19 percent, and 9 percent respectively).

Underage Drinking--National Survey Results
College Drinking-National Survey Results
Gender Differences in Alcohol Consumption
Where Youth Get their Alcohol

Underage Drinking - National Statistics

For more than 25 years the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility has been leading the fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking. While rates have declined, alcohol consumption among youth under the legal drinking age remains a concern.

The rate of current alcohol consumption increases with increasing age according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 1% among 12-13 year olds to nearly 18% at ages 16-17, and almost 38% among 18-20 year olds.

 Monitoring the Future

According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF), underage drinking among American youth continued a gradual decline in 2018, with nearly six out of ten teens reporting they have never consumed alcohol. For all three grades combined (8th, 10th, and 12th) consumption rates are at record low levels, and reported drinking among 12th graders in 2018 reached the lowest levels in survey history, with significant decreases in lifetime, past month, and daily consumption as well as binge drinking. The survey data, which is an indicator of the success and progress made to eliminate underage consumption, reports a steady downward trend with prevalence rates remaining at some of the lowest levels recorded among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students since the early 1990s when tracking of this data began.

Three out of four 8th graders (77 percent) report they have never consumed alcohol, down 66% proportionally from 70% in 1991 to 24% in 2018. Lifetime consumption of alcohol among tenth graders and twelfth graders declined proportionally 49% and 36%, respectively, since 1991.

During this same period, annual consumption rates continued to trend downward reaching a new record low among high school seniors, declining 63% proportionally among 8th graders, 48% among 10th graders, and 36% among 12th graders.  About one in five eighth grade students (19%), 38% of tenth graders, and 53% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year.

From 2017 to 2018 the past 30-day prevalence rate decreased among students in grades 10 and 12 and remained stable among students in the 8th grade.

  • Eight percent (8%) of 8th graders report consuming alcohol in the past month, down 67% proportionally from 25% in 1991.
  • Tenth graders’ reported monthly consumption rate has been cut in in more than half, down 57% proportionally from 43% in 1991 to 19% in 2018.
  • Three out of ten (30%) 12th graders report consuming alcohol in the past 30-days, a decrease of 44% proportionally from 54% in 1991.

In 2018, statistically significant decreases were noted in binge drinking among students in 8th, 10th, and 12th combined, and among high school seniors from 2017 to 2018. Since 1991 the prevalence of binge drinking has been reduced by more than 50 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders - down 66 percent, 59 percent, and 54 percent, respectively.

  • Four percent of 8th grade students (4%) report binge drinking in the past two weeks, but 52% perceive it to be risky behavior and 84% disapprove of binge drinking.
  • Nine percent of 10th graders (9%) said they engaged in binge drinking, while 52% of 10th graders believe this to be a risky behavior and 80% disapprove of the behavior.
  • Fourteen percent 12th graders (14%) report consuming five or more drinks in a row; 45% perceive great risk in the behavior of consuming five or more drinks in a row and 76% disapprove of it.
  • Extreme binge drinking defined as drinking 10 or more drinks, or even 15 or more drinks, in a row during a single occasion in the past two weeks has decreased more than half since its peak, but no significant changes were observed in 2018. (Source: NIDA, National Survey Results on Drug Use from the 2018 Monitoring the Future Study, 2018)

According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey the proportion of students reporting they have been drunk in the past 30-days reached record low levels among 10th and 12th graders. The long-term trend of American teens reporting they have been drunk in the past month has continued to decline – since 1991 the rate is down 72% proportionally among 8th graders, 59% among 10th graders and 45% among 12th graders and over the past decade has experienced equally significant declines (61%, 46% and 36%, respectively).

  • In 2018, 2 percent of 8th graders report being drunk in the past month, unchanged from 2017.
  • Eight percent of 10th graders say they have been drunk in the past 30-days, down more than five percent proportionally from last year.
  • High school seniors reporting being drunk decreased from 2017 to 2018 reaching an historic low. Less than one in six 12th graders (17.5 percent) report they have been drunk in the past month.

 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 7.1 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 report current alcohol consumption; this represents less than 20% of this age group for whom alcohol consumption is illegal.

Over the past decade, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveys have shown a decline in the prevalence rates of current, binge, and heavy alcohol consumption among 12 to 20 year olds:

  • Past month consumption among 12 to 20 year olds has declined proportionally 31 percent from 27.2% in 2009 to 18.8% in 2018. Current consumption among underage persons is at an all time record low. 
  • Underage binge drinking rates decreased 15 percent proportionally from 13.4% in 2015 to 11.4% in 2018, reaching a new record low level.
  • Heavy drinking (five or more drinks on the same occasion on 5 or more days in the past 30 days) also decreased to an historic low among 12 to 20 year olds during this time, declining 30 percent proportionally from 3.3% in 2015 to 2.3% in 2018.  (Source: SAMHSA, 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8/2019)

College Drinking - National Survey Results

According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future Study, the overall trend in heavy drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) among college students continues to show a decline, decreasing 36 percent proportionally (44% to 28%) since 1980.

Overall, the prevalence of college drinking over the past 27 years, measured as lifetime, annual, and past 30-day consumption rates have all declined. Since 1991, lifetime consumption among college students has declined 17% proportionately, while annual consumption and monthly consumption are down 16% and 20%, respectively.

The Monitoring the Future Survey revealed a continuation of the gradual long-term decline in alcohol consumption among college students. More specifically, from 2017 to 2018 consumption rates among college students decreased at all measured levels a statistically significant decline in binge drinking. (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2018: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 8/2019)

The Monitoring the Future Study (2012-2018 combined data) revealed during the two weeks prior to the survey one in twenty (9.5%) college students reported they have consumed 10 or more drinks in a row at least once, including one in thirty-three (3.1%) who reported consuming 15 or more drinks in a row. Declines in extreme binge drinking were noted after 2012 for 10 or more drinks and after 2014 for 15 or more drinks. These declines are consistent with in binge drinking. (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2018: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 8/2019)

Gender Differences in Alcohol Consumption

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) nearly 6.4 million 12-20 year old girls reported consuming alcohol in the past year.

In 2018, females aged 12 to 20 reported higher rates of past month alcohol consumption than their male peers (19.5% v. 18.2%, respectively), however, they reported comparatively equal rates of binge drinking (11.3% males v. 11.4% females), however males reported higher rates of heavy alcohol consumption than females (2.6% males vs. 1.9%, respectively). Among  12 to 17 year olds slightly more females reported past month alcohol consumption and binge drinking than their male peers (past month: 9.6% females vs. 8.4% males; binge drinking: 5.1% v. 4.3%, respectively). These noted gender gaps in alcohol consumption narrowed between 2017 and 2018. (Source: SAMHSA, 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8/2019)

The 2018 Monitoring the Future Study reports 32% of college males report having consumed five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks compared with 27% of their female peers. Extreme levels of binge drinking rates indicate a significantly larger variance by gender for the combined years of 2012-2018 with male college students were over two times more likely to engage in these extreme levels of drinking:

  • 15% of male college students compared to 6% of female college students reported having 10 or more drinks in a row.
  • College males (6%) are four times more likely than college females (1.4%) to report consuming 15 or more drinks in a row.  (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2018: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 8/2019)

Where Youth Get Their Alcohol

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) nearly half of current underage drinkers ages 12 to 20, who consumed alcohol in the past month, report the last time they drank alcohol it was either in someone else's house (48%) or their own home (38%). Additionally, 73% of these underage drinkers said they were drinking with more than one other person the last time they drank.

Family and friends continue to be a leading source of alcohol for today’s youth.  Among current underage drinkers who did not pay for the alcohol they consumed the last time they drank (69%) the most frequently cited source of alcohol was an unrelated person aged 21 or older (31%).  Fifty-seven percent of current underage drinkers reported family and friends as their source for the alcohol they consumed - parents/guardians/other adult family member (28%), another underage person (18%), took from home (9%), took from someone else’s home (3%).

Influence of Parents

Despite being identified by youth as one of their primary sources of alcohol, hands down, parents are the most influential person or thing in a child’s decision not to drink at all or not to drink on occasion.

Additional research from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 44% of students who reported past-month consumption said that they usually obtained the alcohol they drank by someone giving it to them; the prevalence of having someone give them alcohol was higher among females (48%) than males (38%).

Regardless of the source of alcohol, youth report access to alcohol is easy. According to the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey 87% of 12th graders, 72% of 10th graders, and 53% of 8th graders say it be "fairly easy" or "very easy" for them to get alcohol.  On a positive note, despite reported ease of obtaining alcohol disapproval of binge drinking continues to remain high among all three grade levels (8th, 85%; 10th, 80%; 12th, 73%).

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