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Monday, May 23, 2011

Surveillance Report #91 - Trends in Underage Drinking in the United States, 1991-2009

This surveillance report, prepared by the Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System (AEDS), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), presents data on underage drinking for 1991–2009. 

This is the fourth of a series of reports to be published every two years on underage drinking and related attitudes and risk behaviors. Data for this series are compiled from three separate nationally representative surveys: the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). 

The following are highlights of trends from 1991 through 2009. 

Prevalence of use
  • Although there are marked differences in absolute values of estimates, and estimates show different patterns of increase and decrease over the time period evaluated, the trends across all three survey data sources show an overall decline in the prevalence of alcohol consumption in the past 30 days between 1991 and 2009. In 2009 27.1 percent of youth ages 12–20 reported consuming alcohol in the past 30 days (NSDUH).
  • Throughout this period, rates of underage drinking remained highest among non-Hispanic whites, followed by Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks. Rates were also higher among youth not enrolled in school as compared with those enrolled in school (NSDUH), although rates among college students remained higher than among non-college students (data not shown).
Drinking patterns
  • The median age of initiation of drinking alcohol has increased slightly from 13.65 years in 1991–1993 to 14.22 years in 2007–2009 (NSDUH). In addition, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of youth reporting initiating drinking at age 12 years or younger (NSDUH, YRBS). 
  • Over the course of the study period, males have maintained higher average frequency, quantity, and volume of consumption in the past 30 days than females, although gender differences are small or nonexistent at the youngest ages. In 2007–2009, youth ages 12–20 reported drinking on a mean of 5.71 days in the past 30 days. They consumed an average of 4.81 drinks on the days that they drank, amounting to an average total of 33.8 drinks in the past 30 days (NSDUH). 
  • According to NSDUH, overall rates of binge drinking have increased among 12- to 20-year-olds between 1993 and 2002, from 12.1 to 19.1 percent, but have trended down in the last few years. Data from the secondary school–based surveys (MTF and YRBS), however, show an overall decline in binge drinking rates during this time period; the recent downward trends appear to have started in 1999 (MTF) and possibly as early as 1997 (YRBS).
Alcohol-related attitudes
  • The trends for alcohol-related attitudes show a gradual shift in youth attitudes towards underage drinking, with a decrease during the 1990s, particularly in the early 1990s, in the percentage of youth strongly disapproving of others regularly consuming alcohol or binge drinking, and in the percentage of those who consider regular or binge drinking a great risk (MTF). In the 2000s, these trends have largely been reversed.
Alcohol-related risk behaviors
  • Between 1991 and 2009 trends from the YRBS show an overall decline in the prevalence of secondary school youth driving while under the influence of alcohol, whereas NSDUH data trends show an increase in prevalence between 1995 and 2002 . The difference is due to the large increase in rates among 18- to 20-year-olds—from 15.6 percent in 1995 to 22.2 percent in 2002—whereas rates among younger youth remained relatively stable (NSDUH). Declines in prevalence since 2003 in NSDUH data, however, depict a similar downward trend as observed in YRBS data.

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