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1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

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Underage Alcohol Use

6. ALCOHOL USE

Estimates of the prevalence of alcohol use are presented primarily for three levels of use, defined for this report as follows:

Current use - At least one drink in the past month (includes binge and heavy use).
Binge use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past month (includes heavy use).
Heavy use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least five different days in the past month.

In 1998, approximately 113 million persons age 12 and over were current alcohol users, which was about 52 percent of the total population age 12 and older. About 33 million persons (15.7 percent) engaged in binge drinking, and about 12.4 million Americans (5.9 percent of the population) were heavy drinkers.

Alcohol usage rates among those 12 years and older did not change between 1997 and 1998. This was true for all three measures of drinking.

The level of alcohol use was strongly associated with illicit drug use in 1998, as in prior years. Of the 12.4 million heavy drinkers, 29.5 percent (3.7 million people) were current illicit drug users. Among the 20.5 million binge (but not heavy) drinkers, 17.8 percent (3.7 million) were illicit drug users. Other drinkers (i.e., past month but not binge) had a rate of 5.5 percent (4.4 million) for illicit drug use, while only 1.7 percent (1.8 million) of nondrinkers were illicit drug users.

Underage Alcohol Use

About 10.4 million current drinkers were age 12-20 years old in 1998. Of these, 5.1 million were binge drinkers, including 2.3 million heavy drinkers.

The rates of current, binge, and heavy alcohol use among the population age 12-20 years did not change significantly between 1994 and 1998. Rates in 1998 were 30.6 percent, 15.2 percent, and 6.9 percent, respectively, for current, binge, and heavy use.

Among youths age 12-20, the rates of alcohol use were highest among those age 18-20, among whites, males, and among those living in the North Central region. The lowest rates of use were among blacks, females, and youths living in large metropolitan areas. These patterns held for all three measures of alcohol use (Figure 11).

Age

Rates of current alcohol use were above 60 percent for age groups 21-25, 26-29, 30-34, 35-39, and 40-44 in 1998. For younger and older age groups, rates were lower. Young adult (18-25 years old) drinkers were the most likely to binge or drink heavily. Among those age 18-25 who had at least one drink in the past month, about 54 percent were binge drinkers and nearly one in four were heavy drinkers (Figure 11).

Among youths age 12-17, the rate of current alcohol use was about 50 percent in 1979, fell to about 21 percent in 1992, and has remained relatively stable since then. Rates of binge and heavy alcohol use in this age group have also remained relatively stable since 1994.

The rates of binge and heavy alcohol use among young adults age 18-25 were significantly higher in 1998 than in 1997, but similar in 1998 to the rates observed in 1996. Binge rates were 32.0 percent, 28.0 percent, and 31.7 percent in 1996, 1997, and 1998, respectively. Similarly, heavy drinking rates were 12.9, 11.1, and 13.8 percent in those three years.

Race/Ethnicity

Alcohol use tends to be more moderate among blacks than among other racial/ethnic groups. In 1998, whites continued to have the highest rate of current alcohol use at 55.3 percent. Rates for Hispanics and blacks were 45.4 percent and 39.8 percent, respectively. The rate of binge use was lower among blacks (11.4 percent) than among whites (16.5 percent) and Hispanics (15.7 percent). Similarly, the rate of heavy use was also lower among blacks (4.9 percent) than among whites (6.0 percent) and Hispanics (6.5 percent).

Gender

Fifty-nine percent of men were past month alcohol users, compared with 45 percent of women. Men were much more likely than women to be binge drinkers (23.2 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively) and heavy drinkers (9.7 and 2.4 percent, respectively).

Region/Urbanicity

The rate of current alcohol use was 58 percent in the North Central region, 56 percent in the Northeast region, 51 percent in the West region, and 46 percent in the South in 1998. Rates of binge use were 20 percent in the North Central, 14 percent in the South, 15 percent in the West, and 13.5 percent in the Northeast. Heavy alcohol use rates were 8.8 percent in the North Central, 5.6 percent in the South, 4.3 percent in Northeast, and 4.8 percent in the West.

The rate of past month alcohol use was 54 percent in large metropolitan areas, 53 percent in small metropolitan areas, but only 45 percent in nonmetropolitan areas. The patterns were somewhat different for binge and heavy use. Binge and heavy use rates were 14.8 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively, in large metropolitan areas, 16.8 and 6.8 percent in small metropolitan areas, and 15.3 and 6.0 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.

The rate of past month alcohol use for 1997-98 was 42 percent in rural nonmetropolitan areas and 53 percent in non-rural areas. Rates of binge and heavy alcohol use in rural areas, however, were similar to the rates in non-rural areas. Among youths age 12-17, rates were similar in rural and non-rural areas for any use, binge use, and heavy use.

Education

In contrast to the pattern for illicit drugs, the higher the level of educational attainment, the more likely was the current use of alcohol. In 1998, 65.5 percent of adults with college degrees were current drinkers, compared with only 40.4 percent of those having less than a high school education. Binge alcohol use rates did not vary across different levels of education. However, the rate of heavy alcohol use was 4.1 percent among adults who had completed college and 7.8 percent among adults who had not completed high school.

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This page was last updated on June 01, 2008.