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The Fight Against Underage Drinking | Stats on Teen Alcohol Use

Though progress is being made, underage drinking remains a persistent problem. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, about 6.03 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. Among 12-20 year olds, reported rates of past month consumption, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol consumption have declined steadily from 2011 to 2020, reaching historical low levels in 2020.

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 2021 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, fewer American teens are consuming alcohol underage than ever before on all prevalence measures, decreasing significantly among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. For the three grades combined (8th, 10th, and 12th) an unprecedented decrease in the proportion of students reporting lifetime, annual, current (past month), and binge drinking (36 percent, 30 percent, 15 percent, and almost 7 percent respectively) was noted from 2020 to 2021. The gradual declines in underage drinking noted in 2021 marked the lowest levels for alcohol use ever recorded by the MTF study. 

 

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 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.

 

 

 Monitoring the Future

The majority of American teens do not drink alcohol, and the long-term declines noted over the past few decades continue with the lowest recorded levels of underage drinking recorded in the 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF).In 2021 there were statistically significant declines observed in lifetime, annual, current, and binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks) prevalence rates among students in 10th and 12th grades; among 8th grade students, significant decreases were noted in past month consumption and binge drinking, while lifetime and annual consumption rates declined they were not statistically significant decreases.

The percentage of teens reporting alcohol consumption decreased significantly in 2021, with unprecedented decreases noted from 2020 to 2021, which may be an unintended but positive consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Among students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades rates of underage drinking are at historic low levels, remaining significantly lower than peak years recorded in the early to mid-1990s when tracking of this data began.

 

Seventy-eight percent of 8th graders report they have never consumed alcohol, with just one in five reporting they have consumed alcohol in their lifetime. Lifetime consumption among eighth-graders is down 69% proportionally from 70% in 1991 to 22% in 2021. Reaching record low levels in 2021, lifetime consumption of alcohol among tenth graders and twelfth graders declined proportionally 59% and 39%, respectively, since 1991.

During this same period, annual consumption rates continued to trend downward reaching new record lows among all three grade levels, declining 68% proportionally among 8th graders, 61% among 10th graders, and 40% among 12th graders.  About one in six eighth grade students (17%), 29% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year. From 2020 to 2021, annual alcohol consumption among 10th and 12th graders declined significantly (30% and 16%, respectively).

Statistically significant decreases in the past 30-day prevalence rate were recorded from 2020 to 2021 among teens in grades 8, 10 and 12, with historic low levels of underage drinking recorded in each grade level.

  • One in 13 eighth graders (7%) report consuming alcohol in the past month, down 71% proportionally from 25% in 1991.
  • Thirteen percent of 10th graders report consuming alcohol in the past 30-days, a decrease of 69% proportionally from 43% in 1991.
  • Twelfth graders’ reported monthly consumption rate has been cut in more than half, down 53% proportionally from 54% in 1991 to 26% in 2021.

Similar to other noted substantial declines in alcohol consumption, in 2021, the rate of binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) declined significantly with all three grades (8th, 10th and 12th) reaching the lowest recorded levels in the Monitoring the Future survey. Since 1991 the prevalence of binge drinking has been reduced by more than 50 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders - down 74 percent, 62 percent, and 60 percent, respectively.

  • Less than three percent of 8th grade students (2.8%) report binge drinking in the past two weeks, but 52% perceive it to be risky behavior and 81% disapprove of binge drinking.
  • Six percent of 10th graders (6%) said they engaged in binge drinking, while 54% of 10th graders believe this to be risky behavior and 78% disapprove of the behavior.
  • One in eight 12th graders (12%) report consuming five or more drinks in a row; 34% perceive great risk in the behavior of consuming five or more drinks in a row and 58% 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 2021 (8th grade, 1%; 10th grade, 2%; 12th grade 3%).

(Source: NIDA, National Survey Results on Drug Use from 2021 Monitoring the Future Study, 12/2021)

According to the 2021 Monitoring the Future study the proportion of students reporting they have been drunk in the past 30-days declined year over year reaching historic low levels in all three grades surveyed. 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 74% proportionally among 8th graders, 74% among 10th graders and 51% among 12th graders and over the past decade has experienced equally significant declines (44%, 63% and 45%, respectively).

  • In 2021, two percent of 8th graders report being drunk in the past month, a significant decrease from 3.4% the previous year.
  • One in twenty 10th graders (5%) say they have been drunk in the past 30-days, a significant decrease from 9% in 2020.
  • Nearly 16 percent of 12th graders report they have been drunk in the past month, declining from 20% in 2020.

 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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)

 

 

College Drinking - National Survey Results

According to the 2020 Monitoring the Future Study,  alcohol consumption among college students has been level in recent years for the most part. In 2020, the study noted significant declines in the prevalence rates of 30-day use, 30-day been drunk, and binge drinking (having 5 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) between 2019 and 2020 (56%, 28%, and 24%, respectively). 

 

Overall, the prevalence of college drinking over the past 30 years, measured as lifetime, annual, and past 30-day consumption rates have all declined. Since 1991, lifetime consumption among college students has declined 15% proportionately, while annual consumption and monthly consumption are down 13% and 25%, respectively.

The Monitoring the Future Survey revealed a continuation of the gradual long-term decline in alcohol consumption among college students. From 2019 to 2020 consumption rates among college students decreased at all measured levels, however, statistically significant decreases were noted for past 30-day consumption, been drunk in the past 30 days, and binge drinking. (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2020: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 7/2021)

 

With respect to the pandemic, it is possible that the significant declines from 2019 to 2020 were due to the pandemic in terms of reduced social time with friends or that the pandemic served as an accelerant to a decline that was already starting to occur. Both 30-day alcohol use and 30-day been drunk decreased significantly between 2019 and 2020 for college students, dropping 6.4 and 7.2 percentage points, respectively, while the previous five-year trends for both of these measures were stable. Similarly, binge drinking which was on the decline, decreased a significant 7.8% to a record low of 24%.

 

The Monitoring the Future Study (2015-2020 combined data) revealed high-intensity drinking has continued to decline among college students. During the two weeks prior to the survey one in nine college students reported they have consumed 10 or more drinks in a row at least once, including two percent who reported consuming 15 or more drinks in a row. Declines in extreme binge drinking (or high-intensity drinking) were noted from 14% in 2005-2009, to 13% in 2010-2014 and 11% in 2015-2020; similar declines were noted among college students reporting consuming 15 or more drinks with a statistically significant decline from 5.1% in 2005-2009, to 4.5% in 2010-2014 to 2.1% in 2015-2020. These noted declines in the prevalence of extreme binge drinking are consistent with declines in binge drinking rates (at the 5+ drinks level) for college students. (Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2020: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 7/2021)

Gender Differences in Alcohol Consumption

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 2020 Monitoring the Future Study reports among college students in 2020, 30-day alcohol use was slightly higher among women than their male peers (57% and 53%, respectively), however, the prevalence of having consumed five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks was noticeably higher among college men (32%) than college women (20%). Extreme levels of binge drinking rates indicate a significantly larger variance by gender for the combined years of 2015-2020 with male college students three times more likely to engage in these extreme levels of drinking:

  • College males were two times more likely than college females to report having engaged in high intensity drinking, having 10 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks (17% and 8%, respectively).

(Source: University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, 1975-2020: Volume II, College Students and Adults Ages 19-50, 7/2021)

 

Where Youth Get Their Alcohol

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%).

 

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