Underage Drinking Rates

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

It’s commonly believed that drinking rates among underage persons in the U.S. are increasing. Fortunately, that’s a false perception. In reality, government and university research repeatedly demonstrates dramatic declines in underage alcohol consumption rates over time.

The proportion of high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down. 2

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous year is down. 3

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days is down. 4

The proportion of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down. 5

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down. 6

Drinking among young people continues to drop. For example, the proportion of young people aged 12 through 17 who have consumed any alcohol during the previous month has plummeted from 50% in 1979 to 17.6 in 2002, according to the federal government's annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Thus, while one in two were drinkers in 1979, fewer than one in five were in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available. 7

College student drinking attracts much attention in the press. But the proportion of college freshmen who drink continues to decrease. Freshmen entering college in 2003 reported the lowest rates of drinking in the 38-year history of the national college Freshman Survey. The proportion reporting occasional or frequent beer drinking dropped to an historic low of 44.8%, down from 73.7% in 1982. Consumption of both wine and distilled spirits also dropped to a record low. 8

 

References and Readings

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