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Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth

Prevalence of Underage Drinking

Prevalence of drinking by grade level in 2015:3,4,5

3

* Young adults are high school graduates with modal ages 19 to 28. This includes the college student population.4

Two-week prevalence of binge drinking by educational grade level in 2015 (%):3

Two week prevalence of binge drinking

In 2015, more youths used alcohol than tobacco or illicit drugs in the past month:6
More youths used alcohol than tobacco

In 2015, more middle and high school students used alcohol than cigarettes:3, 5
More middle and high school students used alcohol than cigarettes

30-day prevalence of being drunk by gender, in 2015:7
30-day prevalence of being drunk

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, 20158

Drinking among 15-16

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 above 1.2% and below 16.5% to purchase in shops at age 16.
iii Alcohol By Volume (ABV) must be above 16.5% to purchase in shops at age 18.
iv Limited comparability. Binge drinking prevalence in the United States is measured in “past 2 weeks”.

Updated March 2017

Prevalence of Underage Drinking (printer-friendly version)


Notes

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage drinking. Washington, DC; June 11, 2015. 

2. Lipari, R. N., Williams, M. R., Copello, E. A. P., & Pemberton, M. R. (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA/NSDUH Data Review.

3. Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2015: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs.html#monographs.  

4. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Miech, R. A. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2015: Volume 2, College students and adults ages 19–55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs.html#monographs.

5. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016).
Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

6. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/ 

7. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs, 1975–2015 (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 86). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs.html#papers. 

8. Except for minimum purchase age, Hibell, B., Guttormsson, U., Ahlstrom, S., Balakiereva, O., Bjarnason, T., et al. ESPAD Report 2015: Results from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs. (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2016). (Accessed at http://www.espad.org/sites/espad.org/files/ESPAD_report_2015.pdf on October 24, 2016).

9. 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 October 24, 2016).

10. Wikipedia. Accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_drinking_age on October 24, 2016.