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National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 2020 Part One: Shatter the Myths

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, scientists and experts on drug and alcohol use from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) launched a public awareness campaign to offer teenagers real facts about alcohol and drug use among their peer group. The purpose of the campaign was twofold:

  1. Present teenagers the latest data on alcohol and drugs.
  2. Refute myths and misconceptions about alcohol and drug use teenagers find online and learn from television, music, movies, social media, and their friends.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) joined the campaign in 2016, creating what we now celebrate as National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW). We’ll join the movement this year by posting articles that discuss alcohol and drug use among teens. Our articles will address the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among teens, shed light on the gap that exists between teens who need treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders and the teens that get that treatment, and analyze the long term trends in alcohol and drug use among teens, based on data collected over the past twenty years.

The 2020 Theme

This year, NDAFW takes place between March 30th and April 5th. Organizers and advocates invite teens, parents, teachers, school administrators, public policymakers, and anyone involved in the life of teenagers to get on board with the theme for 2020:

NDAFW 2020:


About Alcohol and Drug Use.

The core of the effort revolves around sharing information about alcohol and drug use among teens that’s based on research, supported by data, and published in reputable journals or presented by respected government, non-profit, and advocacy organizations.

Speaking of data, let’s get right to it.

The Data on Teen Drinking

This first post focuses on alcohol use among teens and contains the latest statistics from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published by the University of Michigan in their annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey. We’ll present data from the 2019 MTF Survey on alcohol use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders below.

General Alcohol Use: Lifetime, Past Year, Past Month, and Daily/Heavy Use
(8th, 10th, and 12th Graders Combined)
  • 41.5% said they’d had at least one drink in their lives. 25% said they’d been drunk at least once during their lives.
  • 35.9% said they’d had at least one drink in the past year. 19.5% said they’d been drunk during the past year.
  • 18.2% said they’d had at least one drink in the past month. 9.4% said they’d been drunk in the past month.
  • 0.8% said they’d had a drink in the past day. 8.7% said they’d had over five drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks.

Alcohol Use: Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month Use

  • 8th graders
    • Lifetime: 24.5%
    • Past year: 19.3%
    • Past month: 7.9%
  • 10th graders
    • Lifetime: 43.1%
    • Past year: 37.7%
    • Past month: 18.4%
  • 12th graders
    • Lifetime: 58.5%
    • Past year: 32.8%
    • Past month: 29.3%

Heavy Alcohol Use: Binge Drinking Among 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders

  • Five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks:
    • 8th graders: 3.8%
    • 10th graders: 8.5%
    • 12th graders: 7.9%
  • Ten or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks:
    • 8th graders: 1.7%
    • 10th graders: 3.3%
    • 12th graders: 5.3%
  • Fifteen or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks:
    • 8th graders: n/a
    • 10th graders: n/a
    • 12th graders: 3.2%

There’s good and not-so-good news in this data. First, the not-so-good news. This is something we almost always forget, overlook, or fail to mention when we talk about teen drinking:

With some exceptions – listed here – every teen represented as a percentage in the stats above breaks the law every time they drink.

We point that out simply to remind ourselves, and our teens, that though underage drinking is common, the federally mandated minimum age for purchasing alcohol is 21 years of age. Therefore, when we talk about these statistics, we’re also talking – in most cases – about illegal activity.

However, within this situation – the de facto illegal situation – data shows a significant downward trend in alcohol use among teens since the mid-1990s.

That’s the good news.

Encouraging Trends in Alcohol Use Among Teens

On average, our teens are drinking less now than they have in about 25 years. That’s almost an entire generation, depending on how you count. The details: teen drinking peaked around 1995, declined steadily between 1995 and 2015, and leveled off around 2017-2018. The numbers are now stable at the levels measured in 2018.

Here’s the prevalence change since the mid-1990s:

  • Lifetime use (ever consumed alcohol) for all three grades decreased 40-45%
  • Annual use (drank in past year) for all three graders decreased 40-45%
  • Thirty-day use (drank in past month) for all three grades decreased by around 50%
  • Daily use (drank in the past 24 hours) for all three grades decreased by 75%

That is good news. With the exception of a small spike in binge drinking in the late 1990s, it appears that all the awareness efforts, public knowledge campaigns, and anti-underage drinking initiatives mounted over the past three decades have worked. Our teens start drinking later, drink less when they do start, and engage in high-risk drinking behavior – like binge drinking – less frequently than they have since the NSDUH and MTF began collecting and publishing data in 1991.

The Next Step: The Treatment Gap

Our next article for NDAFW will focus on the treatment gap. Here’s what we mean by that: not everyone who has a drinking problem – also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), formerly known as alcoholism – gets the treatment they need. The difference between the people who need treatment and people who get treatment is called the treatment gap.

Here’s what it looks like right now for adolescents in the U.S. In 2018:

  • 401,000 adolescents (12-17) meet the criteria for AUD:
    • 173,000 males
    • 227,000 females
  • Only 5% of those received treatment for their AUD.
    • 5.6% of males
    • 4.6% of females

That gap needs to close.

That’s something we can work together to make happen.


By focusing our energy on this year’s theme: SHATTER THE MYTHS and stigma around treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders.

Stay tuned for our next post for National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 2020, where we’ll offer concrete tips and techniques for sharing news and information about adolescent alcohol and drug use. Together, we can and will SHATTER THE MYTHS and work to convince anyone who needs treatment to seek and receive that treatment.

Spread the word:

Treatment Works.

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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