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 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, historical gradual declines on all prevalence measures have leveled off 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 (44 percent, 38 percent, 21 percent, and 10 percent respectively) increased in 2020 but noted substantial progress over the longer term remain.
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 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from nearly 2% among 12-13 year olds to nearly 19% at ages 16-17, and almost 36% among 18-20 year olds.
While the majority of American teens do not drink alcohol, the longer-term declines noted over the past few decades have leveled off according to the 2020 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF).In 2020 there were no further significant declines observed in any of the three grades included in the study in the prevalence of lifetime, annual, past 30-day, or daily use, or in binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks). Year over year prevalence rates increased slightly from 2019 to 2020 among students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, but all rates remain significantly lower than peak years recorded in the early to mid-1990s when tracking of this data began.
Three out of four 8th graders (75 percent) report they have never consumed alcohol, down 65% proportionally from 70% in 1991 to 25% in 2019. 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 tenth graders and high school seniors, declining 64% proportionally among 8th graders, 48% among 10th graders, and 33% among 12th graders. About one in five eighth grade students (19%), 38% of tenth graders, and 52% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year.
From 2018 to 2019 the past 30-day prevalence rate remained relatively unchanged among students in grades 8, 10 and 12; however, the rate of current consumption among 10th and 12th graders reached record low levels.
- One in 12 eighth graders (8%) report consuming alcohol in the past month, down 69% 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 18% in 2019.
- Twenty-nine percent of 12th graders report consuming alcohol in the past 30-days, a decrease of 46% proportionally from 54% in 1991.
In 2019, after years of steady decline, the rate of binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) appears to be leveling off although it remains at or near the lowest recorded levels among students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade. Since 1991 the prevalence of binge drinking has been reduced by more than 50 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders - down 65 percent, 60 percent, and 52 percent, respectively.
- Four percent of 8th grade students (4%) report binge drinking in the past two weeks, but 53% perceive it to be risky behavior and 83% disapprove of binge drinking.
- Nine percent of 10th graders (9%) said they engaged in binge drinking, while 53% of 10th graders believe this to be a risky behavior and 81% disapprove of the behavior.
- Fourteen percent 12th graders (14%) report consuming five or more drinks in a row; 41% perceive great risk in the behavior of consuming five or more drinks in a row and 73% 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 non-significant increases were noted among 8th and 10th graders in 2019. (Source: NIDA, National Survey Results on Drug Use from the 2019 Monitoring the Future Study, 2019)
According to the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey the proportion of students reporting they have been drunk in the past 30-days increased slightly among 8th and 10th graders and there was no change among 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 66% proportionally among 8th graders, 59% among 10th graders and 45% among 12th graders and over the past decade has experienced equally significant declines (48%, 44% and 35%, respectively).
- In 2019, almost three percent of 8th graders report being drunk in the past month, an increase from 2018.
- Nine percent of 10th graders say they have been drunk in the past 30-days, a non-significant increase from 2018.
- High school seniors reporting being drunk was unchanged from 2018 to 2019, and remains at an historic low. Less than one in six 12th graders (17.5 percent) report they have been drunk in the past month.
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 7.05 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 declined 29 percent proportionally from 26% in 2010 to 18.5% in 2019. 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 17 percent proportionally from 17% in 2015 to 11% in 2019, 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 33 percent proportionally from 3.3% in 2015 to 2.2% in 2019. (Source: SAMHSA, 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9/2019)
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)
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) nearly 6.1 million 12-20 year old girls reported consuming alcohol in the past year.
In 2019, females aged 12 to 20 reported higher rates of past month alcohol consumption than their male peers (19.9% v. 17.2%, respectively), and binge drinking (10.4% males v. 11.8% females), however, they reported comparatively equal rates of heavy alcohol consumption (2.1% males vs. 2.3%, respectively). While not statistically significant, among 12 to 17 year old female there were increases in the prevalence rates of past month alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and heavy drinking from 2018 to 2019. Slightly more 12-17 year old females report drinking at all three levels compared to their male peers in 2019 (past month: 10.8% females vs. 8.6% males; binge drinking: 5.3% v. 4.5%, respectively; and heavy drinking: 1.1 vs. 0.6). These noted gender gaps in alcohol consumption remained relatively unchanged between 2018 and 2019. (Source: SAMHSA, 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8/2019)
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)
According to the 2019 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 (47%) or their own home (41%). Additionally, 74% 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 (68%) the most frequently cited source of alcohol was an unrelated person aged 21 or older (29%). Fifty-six 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 (16%), 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 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 2019 Monitoring the Future survey 83% of 12th graders, 67% of 10th graders, and 49% 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, 83%; 10th, 81%; 12th, 73%).