The Fight Against Underage Drinking | Stats on Teen Alcohol Use
Though progress is being made, underage drinking remains a persistent problem. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, about 5.9 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 report current alcohol consumption; this represents 15% 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 2012 to 2021, reaching historic low levels in 2021.
Early drinking is a risk factor for alcohol use disorders. Adults who had taken their first drink of alcohol before the age of 15 were 6.5 times more likely to experience an alcohol use disorder than those who didn’t start drinking before age 21. (SAMHSA, 2017 NSDUH).
According to the 2022 Monitoring the Future study, alcohol consumption among America’s teens is holding steady at or below pre-pandemic prevalence rates. Lifetime, annual, current, and binge drinking prevalence rates showed little or no change from 2020 to 2022, after unprecedented declines in 2021, among students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades, but all rates are significantly lower than peak years. For the three grades combined (8th, 10th, and 12th) the proportion of students reporting lifetime, annual, current (past 30-days), and binge drinking (41 percent, 32 percent, 16 percent, and almost 7 percent, respectively) were below pre-pandemic levels.
Underage Drinking - National Statistics
For more than 30 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 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from almost 1% among 12-13 year olds to nearly 17% at ages 16-17, and almost 32% among 18-20 year olds.
The majority of American teens do not drink alcohol, and the long-term declines noted over the past few decades continued in 2022. As noted in the 2022 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, lifetime consumption levels returned to pre-pandemic levels, while current drinking and binge drinking rates remained at near-record low levels, with an historic low, six percent of eighth graders reporting past 30-day consumption. Peer disapproval of binge drinking remains high among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, with a significant increase noted among high school seniors.
An unintended but positive consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented declines in underage alcohol consumption among American teens. In 2022, the rates of underage drinking among students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades rates remained relatively unchanged and significantly lower than peak years recorded in the early to mid-1990s when tracking of this data began.
Less than one in five (16%) teens report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days. Current alcohol consumption among students in all three grade levels combined remains below pre-pandemic levels, having declined 36 percent since 2013 and 61 percent since 1991. At the individual grade levels, past month consumption remained relatively unchanged between 2021 and 2022.
- Past month consumption among eighth graders continues to decline steadily, reaching a record low six percent, having decreased 41 percent over the past ten years.
- One in seven 10th graders report current alcohol consumption (14%), declining 47 percent from 26 percent in 2013.
- Increasing slightly in 2022, 28 percent of 12th graders report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, however, current drinking among high seniors is down 28 percent over the past decade.
Among teens in grades 8, 10, and 12 combined, the majority (59 percent) report they have never consumed alcohol in their lifetime. Over the past decade the number of combined students reporting they have consumed alcohol decreased 17 percent, proportionally, and 48 percent from a record high of 80 percent in 1991. Seventy-seven percent of 8th graders report they have never consumed alcohol, with nearly one in four reporting they have consumed alcohol in their lifetime. Lifetime consumption among eighth-graders is down 69% proportionally from 70% in 1991 to 23% in 2022. Lifetime consumption of alcohol among tenth graders and twelfth graders returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, but declined proportionally 51% and 30%, respectively, since 1991.
During this same period, annual consumption rates increased slightly from 2021 to 2022, but remained well below pre-pandemic levels among all three grade levels, declining 72% proportionally among 8th graders, 57% among 10th graders, and 33% among 12th graders since record keeping began in 1991. About one in six eighth grade students (15%), 31% of tenth graders, and 52% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year. From 2021 to 2022, annual alcohol consumption among 12th graders increased significantly 12% proportionally from 47% to 52%.
- Fifteen percent of eighth graders report consuming alcohol in the past year, down 31% proportionally from 22% in 2013.
- Nearly one in three (31%) of 10th graders report consuming alcohol in the past year, a decrease of 34% proportionally from 47% in 2013.
- Twelfth graders’ reported annual consumption rate increased significantly from 2021, however, the prevalence rate of annual consumption among high school seniors has declined 16% proportionally from 62% in 2013 to 52% in 2022.
Overall substance use among teens in 2022 remained steady after significant declines in 2021, binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) continued to remain below pre-pandemic levels, continuing its long-term decline. Among 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined binge drinking remained unchanged, with less than seven percent reporting they have engaged in this level of harmful consumption. Binge drinking has declined 49 percent proportionally from 2013 to 2022 and 67 percent since 1991.
- Two percent of 8th graders reported binge drinking in 2022, but 52% perceive it to be risky behavior and 81% disapprove of binge drinking.
- Six percent of 10th graders said they engaged in binge drinking, while 51% of 10th graders believe this to be risky behavior and 78% disapprove of the behavior.
- One in eight 12th graders (13 percent) report consuming five or more drinks in a row; 35% perceive great risk in the behavior of consuming five or more drinks in a row and 67% 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 among 12th graders, but no significant changes in this dangerous behavior were noted in 2022 (8th grade, 1%; 10th grade, 2%; 12th grade 4%).
According to the 2022 Monitoring the Future study the proportion of students reporting they have been drunk in the past 30-days remained steady. The long-term trend of American teens reporting they have been drunk in the past month has continued to decline – since 1991 the rate among students in all three grades combined is down 60% proportionally from 19% in 1991 to 8% in 2022, and down 43% over the past decade down from 14% in 2013.
- In 2022, nearly two percent of 8th graders report being drunk in the past month, down 57% over the past 10 years.
- About one in twenty 10th graders (6%) say they have been drunk in the past 30-days, a decrease of 55% proportionally from 2013.
- Seventeen percent of 12th graders report they have been drunk in the past month, declining 35% from 26% in 2013.
(Source: NIDA, National Survey Results on Drug Use from 2022 Monitoring the Future Study, 12/2022)
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 6 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 report current alcohol consumption; this represents 16% 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, including nearly 3.7 million fewer underage drinkers and 2.7 million fewer binge drinkers over the past ten years.
- Past month consumption among 12 to 20 year olds has declined 36 percent proportionally from 25% in 2011 to 16% in 2020. Current consumption among underage persons is at an all-time record low.
- Underage binge drinking (four/five or more drinks (female/male) on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month) rates decreased 31 percent proportionally from 13% in 2015 to 9% in 2020, 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 45 percent proportionally from 3.3% in 2015 to 1.8% in 2020. (Source: SAMHSA, 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10/2021)
According to the 2021 Monitoring the Future Panel Study, alcohol consumption among college students has been level in recent years for the most part. In 2020, alcohol prevalence rates of 30-day use, 30-day been drunk, and binge drinking declined significantly in the early stages of the pandemic, but have rebounded from these historic lows in 2021.
Overall, the prevalence of college drinking over the past 30 years, measured as lifetime, annual, and past 30-day consumption rates continue to trend downward. Since 1991, lifetime consumption among college students has declined 15% proportionately, while annual consumption and monthly consumption are down 13% and 20%, respectively.
The Monitoring the Future Survey revealed a continuation of the gradual long-term decline in alcohol consumption among college students. From 2020 to 2021 as social time with friends returned to pre-pandemic levels consumption rates among college students increased at all measured levels.
In 2021, three out of four college students report they consumed alcohol in the past 12 months and 60 percent report consuming alcohol in the past 30-days. Binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) increased significantly (6.2 percentage points) in 2021 marking a return to pre-pandemic levels – 30% in 2021, 24% in 2020, and 32% in 2019. And, high-intensity drinking (consuming 10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) was reported by nearly one in nine college students. (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future Panel Study annual report: National data on substance use among adults ages 19 to 60, 1976-2021, 8/2022)
According to the the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) nearly 3.0 million 12-20 year old girls reported consuming alcohol in the past year.
In 2020, females aged 12 to 20 reported higher rates of past month alcohol consumption than their male peers (16.7% v. 15.6%, respectively), and binge drinking (9.6% females v. 8.8% males), however, males reported slightly higher rates of heavy alcohol consumption (2.0% males vs. 1.5% females, respectively). Among 12 to 17 year old females decreases in the prevalence rates of past month alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and heavy drinking from 2020 to 2021, however, caution should be used in comparing 2020 data to previous years due to methodological changes. Slightly more 12-17 year old females report current aclohol consumption compared to their male peers in 2020 while binge drinking and heavy alcohol use prevalence rates were comparatively similar (past month: 9.2% females vs. 7.4% males; binge drinking: 4.2% v. 4.1%, respectively; and heavy drinking: 0.6 vs. 0.5). These noted gender gaps in alcohol consumption remained relatively unchanged between 2020 and 2021. (Source: SAMHSA, 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10/2021)
The 2021 Monitoring the Future Panel Study reports among college students in 2021, college men and women reported similar rates consumption in the past 30-days (59%), however, among their non-college peers past month consumption while lower was higher among women than men (50% and 46%, respectively. Harmful binge drinking defined as having consumed five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks was higher among college men (34%) than college women (29%). Rates of extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks) indicate a significantly larger variance by gender in 2021 with three times more college men reporting they participated in this level of extreme of drinking compared to college women.
- College men were three times more likely than college women to report having engaged in high intensity drinking, that is, having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks (18% and 6%, respectively).
- Compared to their non-college age peers, men were twice as likely to report consuming 10 or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks than their women peers (21% and 11%, respectively).
(Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future Panel Study annual report: National data on substance use among adults ages 19 to 60, 1976-2021, 8/2022)
According to the 2020 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 at their own home (48%) or in someone else's house (44%). Additionally, 70% 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 (72%) the most frequently cited source of alcohol was an unrelated person aged 21 or older (29%). Sixty percent of current underage drinkers reported family and friends as their source for the alcohol they consumed - their own parents/guardian (19%), another adult family member 21 or older (15%), another underage person (14%), took from home (10%), took from someone else’s home (2%).
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 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 41% 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 (45%) than males (35%).
Regardless of the source of alcohol, youth report access to alcohol is easy. According to the 2021 Monitoring the Future survey 77% of 12th graders, 60% of 10th graders, and 48% 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, 81%; 10th, 78%; 12th, 58%).