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Current Underage Drinking Down 50% Since 1991, But Relatively Unchanged Since 2016

Considerably fewer American teens are consuming alcohol underage than ever before; however, the longer-term declines noted over the past few decades have leveled off according to the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey. Lifetime, annual and current prevalence rates showed little or no change, but all rates are significantly lower than peak years.

Among teens in grades 8, 10, and 12 combined, the majority (58 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 24 percent, proportionally, and 48 percent from a record high of 80 percent in 1991, clear indications of the success in delaying the onset of underage drinking.

Current alcohol consumption among students in all three grade levels combined remains at a near record low level (20 percent), having declined 29 percent since 2008 and 50 percent since 1991. At the individual grade levels, past month consumption remained relatively unchanged from 2016 to 2017.

After years of steady decline, the trend in binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) appears to be leveling off. Among 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined binge drinking increased slightly in 2017, but has decreased 36 percent from 2008 to 2017 and 51 percent since 1991.

  • Less than four percent of 8th graders reported binge drinking in 2017, a decrease of 54 percent from 2008 to 2017.
  • Ten percent of 10th graders said they engaged in binge drinking, down 39 percent from 16 percent in 2008.
  • Nearly one in six 12th graders (17 percent) report consuming five or more drinks in a row, a 33 percent decrease from 25 percent in 2008.

Peer disapproval and perceived risk of binge drinking showed some declines, including a statistically significant decrease among 10th graders, while ease of access to alcohol increased slightly in 2017. Each of these variables may play a contributing role in the long-term trends in underage alcohol consumption, and thus continuing our anti-underage drinking initiatives must remain a priority.

Maureen Dalbec, Vice President of Research at Responsibility.org, and her husband are proud parents of two college age children. In her free time she enjoys running and swimming and occasionally competing in triathlons as well as volunteering in her community.

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