Is Underage Drinking on the Rise?

Underage drinking is a widespread phenomenon that leads to thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries in the U.S. each year. For these and other reasons, public health officials place a heavy emphasis on decreasing the number of Americans below the age of 21 who consume alcohol. These efforts have paid off, and current facts on underage drinking show that the practice has been declining steadily for the last 20 years.

Underage Drinking Facts and Figures

Over 10% of the alcohol sold in the U.S. is consumed by pre-teens, teenagers and young adults who haven’t reached their 21st birthdays. Roughly one-third of all 15-year-olds have consumed an alcoholic beverage at least once. Almost two-thirds of all 18-year-olds have consumed alcohol. Underage drinkers have a very unfortunate tendency to take part in binge drinking, a pattern of high-speed intake that leads to drunkenness in no more than two hours. At any age, alcohol bingers have seriously increased risks for major problems that include:

  • Car crashes and other accidents
  • Physical assaults and other forms of intentional violence
  • Sexual assault and rape, and
  • Alcohol poisoning

A Long-Term Decline

The National Institute on Drug Abuse uses an annual, nationwide survey called Monitoring the Future (MTF) to produce up-to-date facts on underage drinking in America. This survey relies on data gathered from three groups of teenagers: eighth graders, 10th graders and 12th graders. MTF figures show a long-term decline in underage drinking for each of these groups. This downward trend began in the mid-1990s and remains in effect through at least the end of 2016 (the last year with available figures). In 2016, 7.3% of all eighth graders consumed alcohol in the average month. The average for 10th graders was 19.9%, while 33.2% of 12th graders drank in the average month. Despite the long-lasting decline in underage drinking, significant numbers of young people obviously continue to drink. In fact, alcohol still ranks above marijuana/cannabis as the most widely used substance among underage individuals. This fact points to an ongoing need to reduce alcohol use and find appropriate alcohol treatment resources for young consumers who develop diagnosable alcohol problems.   Resources: “Underage Drinking” – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism “Monitoring the Future 2016 Survey Results” – National Institute on Drug Abuse

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