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Drug and Alcohol Facts Week: The Latest Data on Adolescent Drinking

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

In 2010, a group of scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) launched an important initiative. Their goal: teach teenagers the real facts about drug use and drug addiction. By real facts, we – and the scientists who began the initiative – mean those facts supported by research, backed by data, and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Their goal was to enlist experts to engage with teenagers in order to debunk, discuss, and counter myths and misinformation about drugs and addiction teenagers get from the internet, television, music, movies, social media, and their friends. In 2016, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism joined the effort, and National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW) was born.

This year, NDAFW runs from Tuesday, January 22nd to Sunday, Jan 27th. We’ll contribute to the dialogue by offering helpful, information rich posts and articles filled with facts – not opinions, anecdotes, or unproven theories – about alcohol and substance use disorders (formerly known as alcoholism and drug addiction, respectively).

This first post focuses on alcohol use among teens and contains the latest statistics from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published by the University of Michigan in their mammoth yearly Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey.

Now, let’s get straight to the facts.

The 2017 MTF survey reports the following figures for alcohol use among adolescents age 12-17.

General Alcohol Use
  • 27.1% of adolescents said they’d had at least one drink in their lives. That’s almost 7 million teenagers.
  • 21.9% of adolescents said they’d had at least one drink in the past year. That’s over 5 million teenagers.
  • 9.2% of adolescents said they’d had at least one drink in the past month. That’s about 2.5 million teenagers
Binge Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of consumption that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to 0.08 g/dl. This happens when you consume:

  • 4 drinks in about 2 hours (women)
  • 5 drinks in about 2 hours (men)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as:

  • Drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days

The 2017 NSDUH indicates that around 4.9% of individuals age 12 to 17 reported binge drinking in the past month – that’s about 1.25 million people.

Heavy Alcohol Use

SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as:

  • Drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days

The 2017 NSDUH indicates that around 0.8% of individuals age 12 to 17 reported heavy alcohol use in the past month – that’s close to 250,000 people.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
  • Estimates indicate 1.8% of adolescents (age 12-17) had an AUD. That’s 443,000 teens.

The 2017 NSDUH indicates that only about 3% of adolescents with an AUD received appropriate treatment.

Now that you’re up to speed on the current underage drinking rates, what next?

What you should do with this information?

Granted – it’s unlikely your teenager will never drink. At some point during adolescence, the chances are they’re going to give alcohol a try. But how can you prevent a one-off exploration from escalating to binge drinking, heavy drinking, or developing into a full-blown Alcohol Use Disorder?

We think it’s a good idea to remind them of the long-term health risks associated with excessive drinking. We’ll give you a refresher on those health risks in our next post: The Effects of Alcohol Use on the Major Organs.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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