Underage Drinking Levels Off In 2020, But With Substantial Progress Over the Long-Term
ARLINGTON, Va. – The prevalence of underage drinking did not significantly change in 2020 for American teens. according to the just released 2020 Monitoring the Future survey. While fewer American teens are consuming alcohol underage, the longer-term declines noted over the past few decades have leveled off. In 2020 there were no further significant declines observed in any of the three grades under study in the prevalence of lifetime, annual, 30-day, or daily use, or in binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row in the past 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.
“Today’s data highlights that our work to eliminate underage drinking is not done. While the perceived ease of access to alcohol among our nation’s youth continues to decline is good news, it is unfortunate to see alcohol consumption has leveled off from a very long historical decline,” said Maureen Dalbec, COO and senior vice president of research and data analysis at Responsibility.org.
The majority of American teens have never consumed alcohol; among students in grades 8, 10, and 12 combined, 56 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 15 percent, proportionally, and 45 percent from its peak of 80 percent in 1991, clear indications of the success in delaying the onset of underage drinking.
“After a long period of decline, the consumption of alcohol among our nation’s youth appears to have stabilized. In 2020, 22 percent of teens reported they had been drunk in the past year – this is too many and we can and must do better. Responsibility.org will redouble our efforts to do our part to eliminate underage drinking and to work alongside parents, teachers and caregivers to continue making the prevention of underage drinking a priority,” said Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Responsibility.org.
One in five teens report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days. Current alcohol consumption among students in all three grade levels combined increased significantly in 2020 with 21 percent reporting drinking in the past 30 days, up nearly three percent proportionally from 2019. These numbers are down 18 percent since 2011 and 47 percent since its peak in 1991. At the individual grade levels there were no statistically significant increases in past month consumption between 2019 and 2020.
Comparable to the other measures of consumption, after years of steady decline, the historical declines in binge drinking have leveled off while year over year increases were reported in 2020. Among 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined binge drinking increased more than one percent in 2020 but has declined 26 percent proportionally from 2011 to 2020 and 54 percent from a record high in 1997.
Perception of harm in consuming one to two drinks every day or binge drinking of consuming decreased significantly among 8th and 10th graders, however, disapproval of underage drinking at these levels remains high in 2020 (data not available for 12th graders). On a positive note, the ease of obtaining alcohol continues to decline, reaching record low levels among 8th and 10th graders. Each of these variables plays a contributing role in the long-term trends in underage alcohol consumption, and the changing attitudes about perceived harm and disapproval of underage drinking are concerning. Responsibility.org has made significant contributions to these long-term trends and will continue to invest in effective risk and prevention interventions that help delay the onset and ultimately eliminate underage drinking.
Responsibility.org has made significant contributions to these long-term trends and will continue to invest in effective risk and prevention interventions that help delay the onset and ultimately eliminate underage drinking.
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) is a national not-for-profit that aims to eliminate drunk driving and work with others to end all impaired driving, eliminate underage drinking, and empowers adults to make a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices as part of a balanced lifestyle. Responsibility.org is funded by the following distillers: Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc.; Brown-Forman; DIAGEO; Edrington, Mast-Jägermeister US, Inc.; Moët Hennessy USA; Ole Smoky Distillery LLC; and Pernod Ricard USA. For nearly 30 years, Responsibility.org has transformed countless lives through programs that bring individuals, families and communities together to inspire a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices. To learn more, please visit Responsibility.org.
Note about the 2020 Monitoring the Future Data: Data collection stopped prematurely in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Completed surveys represent about 25% of the size of a typical year’s data collection. However, results were gathered from a broad geographic range and the results are a nationally representative sample of American teens. All data results reflect pre-pandemic patterns of substance use behaviors and related attitudes. Complete data tables are available here.