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Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth

Prevalence of Underage Drinking

More kids try alcohol than try cigarettes:16

 Had a drink in the last 30 daysHad a cigarette in the last 30 days
8th-graders13.8%6.9%
10th-graders28.9%13.6%
12th-graders41.2%19.2%

Prevalence of drinking by grade level:17

 Had a drink, last 30 daysHad a drink, last yearBeen drunk, last 30 daysBeen drunk, last yearBeen drunk, ever
8th-graders13.8%29.3%5.0%11.5%16.3%
10th-graders28.9%52.1%14.7%29.9%36.9%
12th-graders41.2%65.2%26.8%44.0%54.1%

Many people assume that European countries, with lower drinking ages, are more successful than the U.S. at preventing heavy drinking among young people. However, surveys from those countries that are designed to be comparable with U.S. data suggest otherwise:

Drinking among 15-16-year-old students, selected Western countries and United States, 200318

 FranceDenmarkItalySwedenUnited KingdomUnited States
Minimum purchase age (on-premise/off-premise)1918i16ii/181618/201821
Had a drink, last 30 days64%80%63%44%70%33%
Had five or more drinks on at least one occasion (binge drinking), last 30 days43%60%38%37%54%N/A20
Been drunk at least once, last 30 days18%49%12%17%33%18%

i Buying alcohol is illegal below the age of 18 for spirits and below 16 for other beverages.
ii Alcohol By Volume (ABV) must be under 16.5% to purchase in shops at age 16.

Updated July 2011


Notes

1. Gfroerer J. Re: Alcohol initiates under 16. Personal communication (e-mail) to Jernigan D, Baltimore, MD. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 30, 2010.

2. Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., and Schulenberg, J.E. (2011). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

3. Calculated using the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. J. Gfroerer of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, e-mail to David H. Jernigan, PhD, 14 September 2004.

4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. SMA 11-4658). Rockville, MD.

5. Grucza RA, Norberg KE, Bierut LJ. Binge drinking among youths and young adults in the United States: 1979-2006, J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009; 48(7): 692-702.

6. According to SAMHSA, binge alcohol use is defined as "five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) at least once in the past 30 days (includes heavy use)." Heavy alcohol use is defined as "five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 5 different days in the past 30 days." Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. SMA 11-4658). Rockville, MD.

7. Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., and Schulenberg, J.E. (2011). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan

8. Naimi, T.S., Brewer, R.D., Mokdad, A., Denny, C., Serdula, M.K., et al., Binge Drinking Among US Adults, JAMA, 289, 2003: 70-75.

9. Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy, prepared in support of the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program, U.S. Department of Justice (Calverton, MD: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2005).

10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. SMA 11-4658). Rockville, MD.

11. H. Wechsler, J.E. Lee, T.F. Nelson, M. Kuo, "Underage College Students' Drinking Behavior, Access to Alcohol, and the Influence of Deterrence Policies: Findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study," Journal of American College Health 50, no. 5 (March 2002): 223-236.

12. Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy, prepared in support of the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program, U.S. Department of Justice (Calverton, MD: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2005)

13. S.E. Foster, R.D. Vaughan, W.H. Foster, J.A. Califano, "Alcohol Consumption and Expenditures for Underage Drinking and Adult Excessive Drinking," Journal of the American Medical Association 289, no. 8 (26 Feb 2003): 989-995.

14. Hingson, R.W., Heeren, T., Winter, M.R. Age at drinking onset and alcohol dependence: age at onset, duration, and severity. Pediatrics, 2006; 160:739–746.

15. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. SMA 11-4658). Rockville, MD.

16. Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., and Schulenberg, J.E. (2011). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

17. Ibid.

18. Except for minimum purchase age, Hibell, B., Guttormsson, U., Ahlstrom, S., Balakiereva, O., Bjarnason, T., et al. The 2007 ESPAD Report: Substance Use Among Students in 35 European Countries. (Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs [CAN], 2009). (Accessed at http://www.espad.org/espad-reports on June 15, 2011)

19. Wikipedia. Accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_drinking_age

20. Data from five countries are missing in the ESPAD report on this variable (Had five or more drinks on at least one occasion, last 30 days) owing to incompatibilities in the national version of the question.