Binge drinking among high schoolers declined during the 2000s, and is now at record low levels; however, as of 2015, nearly one in five (17 percent) 12th-graders reported this behavior.
Binge drinking is a common form of alcohol consumption among adolescents. Alcohol use among youth is associated with a wide variety of other risky behaviors and poor outcomes, including unprotected sexual intercourse, vulnerability to coerced sexual activity, the use of marijuana, and poor academic performance., Binge drinking, in particular, is associated with poor school performance, and involvement in other health risk behaviors, such as riding with a driver who has been drinking, cigarette smoking, sexual activity, being a victim of dating violence, attempting suicide, and using illicit drugs. Consuming larger quantities of alcohol is also associated, among young women, with benign breast disease, a risk factor for cancer. In 2014, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 26 percent of young drivers who were involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system.
Alcohol use among adolescents is also related to an increased risk of alcohol dependence in adulthood. Binge drinking can contribute to many health disorders, including cancer, liver, pancreatic and cardiovascular diseases, as well as to a variety of gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders and reproductive system disorders. Contextual risk factors associated with adolescent drinking include having alcoholic parents; a lack of parental support, monitoring, and communication; and having peers who drink.,
The proportion of 12th-graders who reported binge drinking peaked in the early 1980s at 41 percent, before falling sharply through the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s, except for a small increase between 1985 and 1987. The rate of 12th-grade binge-drinkers rose again throughout the 1990s, from a low of 28 percent in 1991 to a high of 32 percent in 1998, before resuming a downward trend throughout the last decade. Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of students in grades eight, ten, and twelve who reported binge drinking declined by 58, 52, and 42 percent, respectively. (Figure 1)
Twelfth-graders are nearly four times as likely to report heavy drinking as eighth-graders. In 2015, 17 percent of twelfth-graders reported binge drinking, compared with 11 percent of tenth-graders, and 5 percent of eighth-graders.
At eighth and tenth grades, roughly equal proportions of boys and girls engage in binge drinking. However, by twelfth grade, boys are more likely than girls to have five or more drinks on one occasion (19 and 15 percent, respectively, in 2015). (Appendix 1)
In 2015, Hispanic students were more likely than black students to engage in heavy drinking at all three grade levels. In eighth grade, white students were equally likely to engage in heavy drinking as black students, while in tenth and twelfth grade they were more likely to do so than black students. Moreover, in eighth grade, white students were less likely than Hispanic students to drink heavily (four and five percent, respectively), but in twelfth grade they were more likely to do so (21 and 19 percent, respectively). Hispanics and whites were equally likely to drink heavily in tenth grade. (Figure 2)
Students are less likely to binge drink if they plan to complete four years or more of college than if they have no such plans. For instance, in 2015, 10 percent of tenth-graders who planned to complete four years of college reported binge drinking, compared with 18 percent who had no such plans. This relationship is stronger among younger students, though it is still evident in grade twelve. (Figure 3)
2015 estimates for binge drinking are available for high school students (grades 9-12) for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
For 2013-2014, state estimates for binge drinking among youth ages 12-17 and 18-25 (within the prior month) are available from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (Table 10).
NOTE: Estimates of drug use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), used to generate these state-level estimates, are generally lower than estimates generated by the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). Since the MTF was the source of the national estimates presented in this indicator, users should not make direct comparisons of estimates made from the two sources. For information on methodological differences in the surveys that may be causing these differences in estimates, see: Harrison, L.D. (2001). Understanding the differences in youth drug prevalence rates produced by the MTF, NHSDA, and YRBS studies. Journal of Drug Issues, 31(3), pp. 665‐694
International estimates of lifetime and 30‐day binge drinking incidence use are available from the European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) 2011 report, Tables 23a and 23b.
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set several national goals to reduce binge drinking among all age groups. One goal, based on the Monitoring the Future data, is to reduce the proportion of high school seniors who engaged in binge drinking in the last two weeks, from 25.2 percent in 2009 to 22.7 percent in 2020. A second goal, based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, is to reduce the proportion of 12- to 17-year-olds who engaged in binge drinking in the last month, from 9.5 percent in 2008 to 8.6 percent in 2020.
More information is available here. (See goal SA‐14)
See “What Works for Preventing and Stopping Substance Abuse in Adolescents: Lessons From Experimental Evaluations and Interventions.” Available here.
Also, see Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at reducing risky drinking behavior:
Students were asked whether they had imbibed five or more drinks in a row at least once in the two-week period prior to the survey. Dropouts and students who were absent on the day of the survey are not included in the results. For detailed analysis of how those omissions may affect results, see: 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. Appendix A. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
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. Tables 93-95
The Monitoring the Future Survey
|Less than high school||–||–||–||18.3||20.1||18.9||14.4||13.3||15.5||17.0||15.2||12.0||11.0||9.5||9.5||5.7||7.5|
|Completed high school||–||–||–||12.6||14.8||15.3||10.7||10.6||10.5||10.5||9.5||9.3||8.8||7.6||6.7||5.4||5.8|
|None or under 4 years||–||–||–||21.1||25.0||25.0||21.0||19.3||21.5||21.3||19.1||17.6||15.6||15.3||14.2||9.9||10.5|
|Complete 4 years||–||–||–||9.3||10.8||10.1||7.2||7.6||7.1||7.0||6.8||6.3||5.7||4.4||4.5||3.7||4.1|
|Less than high school||–||–||–||25.7||30.5||27.5||24.1||22.7||22.0||20.6||25.7||22.8||17.6||20.5||17.8||15.4||13.9|
|Completed high school||–||–||–||26.0||26.7||29.4||23.6||25.4||22.6||17.8||19.6||19.5||17.1||17.3||15.1||14.0||11.9|
|None or under 4 years||–||–||–||33.0||37.5||39.3||34.0||33.0||30.7||29.1||29.9||30.5||27.1||25.9||21.7||24.3||18.3|
|Complete 4 years||–||–||–||20.8||21.5||24.2||19.3||20.5||18.2||14.4||16.1||14.6||13.4||14.6||12.8||11.4||10.1|
|Less than high school||34.1||37.0||31.7||26.8||26.6||25.1||19.4||25.4||20.4||21.3||23.2||20.1||17.9||23.6||21.5||19.0||17.2|
|Completed high school||41.1||43.2||37.9||29.9||31.2||29.2||28.3||25.8||27.3||23.0||24.6||24.6||21.1||23.9||23.1||20.1||17.1|
|None or under 4 years||41.8||46.7||41.3||34.4||35.2||35.7||34.3||32.3||30.8||31.5||31.3||32.1||27.4||27.5||29.2||24.0||21.5|
|Complete 4 years||31.5||37.4||34.1||27.9||27.8||27.6||25.1||23.7||24.7||23.2||23.8||21.2||20.4||22.6||20.6||18.3||16.4|
|“-” Indicates data not available.
1 Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two-week period.
2 There is reason to believe that eighth graders over-report binge drinking. For more information please see Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2000. Volume 1: Secondary school students (NIH Publication No. 01-4924) Chapter 4 footnote 27.
3 To derive percentages for each racial subgroup, data for the specified year and the previous year have been combined to increase subgroup sample sizes and thus provide the most stable estimates.
4 Parental education is calculated by the Institute of Social Research as the average of the mother’s and father’s education. Averages that fall between two levels were rounded up by Child Trends to reflect the attainment of the most educated parent.
Source: 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. Available at: http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/occpapers/mtf-occ86.pdf. Tables 93-95
Monti, P., Tevyaw, T., and Borsari, B. (2004/2005). Drinking among young adults: Screening, brief
intervention, and outcome. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Focus on Young Adult
Drinking, 28 (4). Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh284/236-244.pdf. Some studies
do not find an association between adolescent drinking and risky sexual behavior. For example, see
Morrison, D. M., Gillmore, M. R., Hoppe, M. J., Gaylord, J, Leigh, B, C., and Rainey, D. (2003). Adolescent
drinking and sex: Findings from a daily diary study. Perspectives on Sexual Reproductive Health, 35(4):
162‐168. Available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3516203.pdf.
White, H. and Jackson, K. (2004/2005) Social and psychological influences on emerging adult drinking
behavior. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Focus on Young Adult Drinking, 28(4).
Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh284/182-190.pdf
Miller, J. W., Naimi, T. S., Brewer, R. D., and Jones, S. E. (2007). Binge drinking and associated health risk
behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics, 119(1), 76‐85.
Berkey, C. S., Willett, W. C., Frazier, A. L., Rosner, B., Tamini, R. M., Rockett, H. R. H., and Colditz, G. A.
(2010). Prospective study of adolescent alcohol consumption and risk of benign breast disease in young
women. Pediatrics, 125(5), e1081‐e1087.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2015). 2014 Traffic Safety Factsheet YOUNG DRIVERS. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812278
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. 2nd ed. With Understanding and
Improving Health and Objectives for Improving Health. 2 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
Office, November 2000. Available at http://www.health.gov/healthypeople/document/
Kuperman, S., Chan, G., Kramer, J.R., Bierut, L., Bucholz, K.K., Fox, L., Hesselbrock, V., Numberger, J.I.,
Reich, T., Reich, W., and Schuckit, M.A. (2005). Relationship of age of first drink to child behavioral
problems and family psychopathology. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 29(10), 1869–
There is reason to believe that eighth‐graders over‐report binge drinking. For more information see
Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975‐2000. Volume 1: Secondary School
Students (NIH Publication No. 01‐4924) Chapter 4, footnote 27
Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites or blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2016). Binge drinking. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=binge-drinking
Last updated: August 2016