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How Common is Adolescent Alcohol Use?

  • Adolescents use alcohol more than any other drug, including tobacco and marijuana. In 2016, nearly one in five 12- to 20-year-olds reported drinking alcohol in the past month.1
  • Adolescents are more likely to drink as they get older. In 2017, one in three students in 12th grade reported drinking in the past month, compared with one in five students in 10th grade and one in 14 students in 8th grade.2

Infographic: Drinking prevalence by grade

  • Binge drinking is the most commonly reported—and most dangerous—way that adolescents consume alcohol. Binge drinking is defined, for males, as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion, and, for females, four or more drinks on one occasion. The threshold for binge drinking is lower for females because of physical differences that make them more vulnerable than males to the effects of alcohol.3 Three out of five youth who drink alcohol also report binge drinking.2 In 2017, 17 percent of students in 12th grade reported binge drinking in the past month compared to 10 percent of students in 10th grade and 4 percent of students in 8th grade.2
  • Gender differences in alcohol use narrowed in recent years. Historically, among high school seniors, more males consistently reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days. In 2014, alcohol consumption in the past 30 days for females was only slightly below males. Furthermore, rates of binge drinking among female students in 10th and 12th have surpassed the rates for male students.
  • Rates of underage alcohol use and binge drinking decreased from 2002 to 2015, and have remained relatively stable since then.1,2


1 Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf

2 Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Patrick, M.E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2017: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2017.pdf

3 Ely, M., Hardy, R., Longford, N.T., & Wadsworth, M.E. (1999). Gender differences in the relationship between alcohol consumption and drink problems are largely accounted for by body water. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 34(6), 894–902. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/34/6/894/192712

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on January 19, 2018