Alcohol Use Falls Among US High Schoolers

By Bryan Le 05/15/17

Drinking rates are on the decline amongst teens while binge drinking among those who do imbibe remains high.

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The incidence of drinking among high schoolers has fallen drastically between 1991 and 2015, a recent CDC survey finds.

The self-reported numbers by the students indicate that around half of high schoolers in 1999 had a drink in the past 30 days while only one in three reported doing so in 2015. Binge drinking, or having five or more drinks in a day and at least four drinks for women, has also fallen from 32% of high schoolers to 18% in the same time frame.

However, this means that about 58% of high school students who drink are drinking heavily.

"They're also drinking intensely… Among high school students who binge drink, more than 40% reported consuming eight or more drinks in a row in 2015," says Marissa Esser, a health scientist at the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the study’s lead author.

Dr. Robert Brewer, director of the excessive alcohol use prevention team at the CDC and study author, says that this kind of heavy drinking will result in blood alcohol levels that are four or five times the legal limit in adults. Teenagers drinking at this level risk alcohol poisoning and possibly death.

The study’s authors believe that the strides made in reducing high school drinking thus far have been the result of tough ID laws, campaigns against drunk driving, and laws that punish parents who allow underage drinking in their homes.

“If teens are drinking in their home, [parents] can be held liable," says Marcia Lee Taylor, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. "The social hosting laws are really making parents understand the consequences, and they're not allowing that to happen as much anymore."

This intuition runs counter to a study that found that underaged kids who were allowed to drink at home were less likely to binge drink in the future, as long as the parents are attentive and actually monitor their children's drinking.

While the way alcohol is treated within a household greatly determines a child’s predisposition to having problems with alcohol in the future, Dr. Gail Saltz, a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College, says that rebellious underage drinking is inevitable to some degree. According to the CDC, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

Saltz advises that all parents, in situations involving drunk driving and their teenage children, strive to place safety over punishment. "Of course you don't want your child to drink, but if they ever found themselves in a situation if they had been drinking or their friends had been drinking and there was any concern whatsoever, you would always help first and ask questions later," she says.

One UK teen went to extraordinary lengths to obtain alcohol, fooling a shopkeeper by dressing as his mom and using her ID to buy vodka and a flavored wine beverage. He posted his hijinks on Facebook where it went viral. Ironically, some point to social media and smartphones as the reason that teens have stopped drinking as much.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter