Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Drinking among Young Adults

Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Drinking among Young Adults

Article excerpt

Young adults have a higher prevalence of alcohol consumption and binge drinking than any other age group. They also drink more heavily and experience more negative consequences of drinking. Rates of alcohol abuse and dependence are disproportionately higher among those between the ages of 18 and 29 compared with other age groups. Young adults are also overrepresented among alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Over time, distinct patterns of change in frequent binge drinking occur, and most heavydrinking young adults appear to "mature out" of abusive drinking patterns as the responsibilities of later adulthood supervene. Drinking patterns are affected by demographic, psychological, behavioral, and social factors as well as minimum drinking age legislation and the cost of alcohol. Motivational programs designed to reduce risks and consequences associated with young-adult drinking may help in reducing alcohol consumption and its consequences. KEY WORDS: AOD use pattern; AOD consumption; AOD associated consequences; risk factors; young adult; prevalence; college student; binge AOD use; heavy AOD use; AOD abuse; AOD dependence; drinking and driving; literature review

Young adults have a higher prevalence of alcohol consumption than any other age group. They also drink more heavily, experience more negative consequences of drinking, and engage in more activities while drinking that may put them at risk for many types of harm. Surveys have documented a decline in alcohol consumption among all age groups in recent years, including young adults (Johnston et al. 1996; Midanik and Clark 1994; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] 1994; Williams and Debakey 1992). However, consumption rates remain highest from the late teen years to the late twenties (Johnston et al. 1996; SAMHSA 1994).

This article summarizes results of several studies regarding the prevalence, patterns, and consequences of youthful drinking and provides an overview of risk factors for problem drinking. Many studies of young adults use samples composed exclusively of college students. Therefore, where possible, this review draws from studies that are national in scope and not focused predominantly on college populations.


Table 1 presents findings derived from two national surveys. One, Monitoring the Future (Johnston et al. 1996), focuses on drug use by young adults. Among high school graduates ages 19 to 28, a total of 91.2 percent reported consuming alcohol at some time in their lives (i.e., lifetime prevalence). Within this same group, 83.7 percent reported alcohol consumption in the past year, and 67.7 percent had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days.

The second survey, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) (SAMHSA 1994), found similar results. Participants ages 26 to 34 reported higher lifetime, annual, and past-month prevalence of alcohol use than did young adults ages 18 to 25. Lifetime, annual, and past-month alcohol use among young adults surveyed were dramatically higher than among respondents ages 12 to 17. Annual and past-month prevalence rates drop off precipitously after age 35, indicating that the highest recent prevalence of drinking is among those who are in the young-adult age range.


Binge drinking, or discrete episodes of heavy drinking, is common among youthful populations. The rate for binge drinking, defined by the Monitoring the Future study as consumption of five or more drinks on one occasion at least once within the 2-week period preceding the survey, was 34.4 percent 1 to 4 years after graduation from high school. The highest rate, 41 percent, was among 21- to 22-year-olds (Johnston et al. 1996).

Young adults in college have a higher rate of binge drinking (40 percent) relative to their noncollege peers. This difference may reflect easier access to alcohol and parties among students, as well as non-college students' earlier adoption of adult roles involving work or marriage. …

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