Underage And Binge Drinking Rates are Falling in the U.S., So Perhaps Teens Are More Responsible Than We Thought

If you've ever been on a college or high school campus, you know how much anxiety there is about underage and binge drinking by the staff, which assumes that young people must be doing a lot of it. Well, it turns out that those fears might be unwarranted, as new research found that the rates of binge drinking and underage consumption are falling. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services released the report that included these findings today, which studied over 30,000 people ages 12-20 over a 10 year period.

The survey data found that the amount of underage people who drink in the last month declined from 28.8 percent in 2003 to 22.7 percent in 2013, which is a significant decrease. In terms of binge drinking, those rates also fell from 19.6 percent of underage people engaging in the last 30 days in 2003, to only a reported 14.2 percent in 2013. In total, there are 8.7 million underage drinkers in the United States and of them, 5.4 million are binge drinkers, too. These numbers definitely suggests a disproportionate relationship between those who choose to drink underage and those who binge drink. Also, for those ages 18 to 20, the rates of binge drinking have stayed consistently around 40 percent and hasn't fallen in the last decade.

While the decrease in underage and binge drinking is promising, special assistant to the director at SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Rich Lucey says that we have to keep the bigger picture in mind. "We as a country could all do a much better job… to really start to drive those numbers down because I don't think any of us are comfortable with an alarmingly high rate of binge drinking... especially when we know the consequences related to it," Lucey told USA Today.

With the number of binge drinkers in the 18-20 year age group being high, it's no surprise that these numbers are even higher when looking specifically at college students. That population had a binge drinking rate of over 59 percent in the last 30 days, which is the majority. Maybe university faculty do have a problem to worry about after all.

The study also looked at what drugs young people were using the most and concluded that alcohol was still the drug of choice for them, with the highest number of them reporting drinking, 22.7 percent. To contrast this, only 16.9 percent reported using tobacco products and 13.6 percent consuming illicit drugs.

Looking at why the rates of binge and underage drinking have declined, Lucey theorized that this decrease is probably because of the focus on stopping underage drinking at all levels of government, including federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Scientist James Fell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation also commented on the findings of the report, telling USA Today that the results don't surprise him one bit. "The combination of all those laws and enforcement will deter underage people from drinking," he said. Fell also pointed out that penalties for using fake I.D.s and providing alcohol to minors have also become much stricter, with a minimum of 20 new restrictions having been put in place during this last decade alone.

While binge drinking has declined for young people overall, total incidence of binge drinking has risen, with a report from the American Psychiatric Association published earlier this week finding that binge drinking among adults is on the rise and one in three reported having an drinking problem over the course of their life. So while this research from SAMHA is cause for celebration, we still have a lot of work to do in changing the cultural norms around binge drinking.

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