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As part of National Recovery Month the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released results from their annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The 2011 survey results revealed good news in terms of underage drinking – current, binge, and heavy drinking rates all dropped reaching record new lows in 2011.  An estimated 9.7 million 12 to 20 year olds (or 25% of this age group for whom alcohol consumption is illegal) reported drinking alcohol in the past month down from 10.0 million (26%) in 2010.  The rates of binge drinking (16%) and heavy drinking (4%) also declined from those reported among 12-20 year olds in 2010.  The average age of first alcohol consumption among those who drank prior to being 21 or older was 15.9, which is similar to the 2010 estimate average of 16 years.

Most importantly, the rates of current, binge, and heavy drinking among underage persons continued a decade long decline from 2002. Past month alcohol consumption among 12 to 20 year olds declined 13 percent from 29% in 2002 to 25% percent in 2011, while binge drinking (consuming 5 or more drinks on a single occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) declined 18 percent from 19% percent in 2002 to 16% in 2011, and heavy drinking (consuming 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on 5 or more days in the past month) declined 29 percent from 6% percent in 2002 to 4% in 2011.

Rates of consumption for the past month, binge drinking, and heavy drinking remain higher among 18-22 year olds enrolled full-time in college than their peers not currently enrolled in college; these rates have remained relatively unchanged since 2002.  Among 18 to 22 year old college students, 61% report drinking in the past month, 39% report binge drinking, and 14% report heavy drinking.  By comparison, those not enrolled full-time in college had prevalence rates of 52%, 35%, and 11%, respectively.  However, the rate of binge drinking overall among 18 to 22 year olds does appear to be decreasing, declining 10 percent from 41% in 2002 to 37% in 2011.

Underage males continue to outdrink their female peers.  The variance in gender among males and females aged 12 to 20 was noticeable in reported rates of current drinking (26% v. 25%), binge drinking (18% v. 14%) and heavy drinking (6% v. 3%).  Underage drinking rates for males ages 12 to 20 were lower in 2011 than in 2010; however among 12 to 20 year old females the rates remained consistent between 2010 and 2011. 

Among current underage drinkers who consumed alcohol in past 30 days, the majority reported that they drank alcohol in someone else’s home (57%) or in their own home (28%).  Additionally, among these current underage drinkers 30% report they paid for the alcohol themselves.  Underage drinkers who did not pay for the alcohol the last time they drank cite unrelated persons aged 21 or older as their most common source for alcohol (38%).  Other sources of alcohol included parents, guardians, and other adult family members (21%), and other underage persons (19%).

An overwhelming majority (91%) of youth 12 to 17 years of age report their parents would strongly disapprove of them drinking alcohol, and these youth were less likely to drink than youths who believed their parents would somewhat disapprove or neither approve nor disapprove of them drinking alcohol.   Similarly, binge drinking was lower among those youth who reported that their parents monitored their behaviors and those whose parents always or sometimes helped with homework compared to those whose parents who did not.

Underage drinking remains a persistent problem, but these data are clear signs of the progress being made to reduce drinking among our nation’s youth.  For more than two decades The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility has been a leader in this fight against underage drinking and it remains committed to continuing to fight through education, communication initiatives, and legislation.  Check out our underage drinking initiatives to learn more about our role in this fight.