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2. Trends in Underage Drinking: 2002-2006

This chapter presents 2002 to 2006 data on the prevalence of alcohol use and alcohol dependence and abuse among persons aged 12 to 20. Findings are presented overall and by age group and gender. The trends are based on single years of data from the 2002 to 2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs). This chapter includes estimates of lifetime, past year, and current (past month) alcohol use, binge alcohol use, heavy alcohol use, and alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year.

2.1. Overall Trends

In each year from 2002 to 2006, more than half of all persons aged 12 to 20 had consumed at least one drink of alcohol in their lifetime. In 2006, an estimated 53.9 percent of underage persons (20.6 million persons) had used alcohol in their lifetime, which was lower than the percentage in 2003 (55.8 percent) or 2002 (56.2 percent) (Figure 2.1; also see Table 2.1 in Appendix C). Lifetime alcohol use among underage persons was stable from 2004 to 2006.

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Figure 2.1 Lifetime Alcohol Use among Persons Aged 12 to 20, by Gender: 2002-2006

Figure 2.1

+ Difference between estimate and 2006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.05 level.

In 2006, about 17.6 million (46.1 percent) underage persons used alcohol in the past year, 10.8 million (28.3 percent) used in the past month, 7.2 million (19.0 percent) engaged in binge alcohol use, and 2.4 million (6.2 percent) engaged in heavy alcohol use. Also in 2006, about 3.5 million (9.1 percent) underage persons were classified with alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year. In this overall age group, rates of past year use, current use, binge use, heavy use, or past year dependence or abuse remained stable from 2002 to 2006. For example, current use among underage persons was 28.8 percent in 2002 and 28.3 percent in 2006, while binge use was 19.3 percent in 2002 and 19.0 percent in 2006.

2.2. Trends, by Age

Among youths aged 12 to 14 and youths aged 15 to 17, the prevalence of lifetime alcohol use was lower in 2006 compared with 2002, 2003, or 2004 (Table 2.2). For example, the rate of lifetime alcohol use for 12 to 14 year olds declined from 24.9 percent in 2002 to 22.1 percent in 2006, and the rate of lifetime use for 15 to 17 year olds declined from 62.7 percent in 2002 to 57.7 percent in 2006. The prevalence of past year drinking was lower in 2006 (16.2 percent) than in 2002 (17.6 percent) for youths aged 12 to 14, and it was lower in 2006 (48.7 percent) compared with 2002 (52.3 percent), 2003 (51.6 percent), or 2004 (50.9 percent) for youths aged 15 to 17 (Figure 2.2). Among 15 to 17 year olds, the prevalence of past month alcohol use was lower in 2006 (26.1 percent) compared with 2002 (28.3 percent), 2003 (28.2 percent), or 2004 (28.3 percent). Among 15 to 17 year olds, the rates of binge drinking and alcohol use disorders in 2006 were not different from the rates in 2002. However, the rate of binge drinking among 15 to 17 year olds was lower in 2006 (17.1 percent) than in 2004 (19.1 percent), and past year dependence or abuse also decreased from 10.1 percent in 2004 to 8.8 percent in 2006. There were no changes in any measures of alcohol use from 2002 to 2006 for 18 to 20 year olds.

Below is a figure. Click here for the text describing this figure.

Figure 2.2 Past Year Alcohol Use among Persons Aged 12 to 20, by Age: 2002-2006

Figure 2.2

+ Difference between estimate and 2006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.05 level.

2.3. Trends, by Gender

Among both males and females aged 12 to 20, rates of lifetime alcohol use decreased between 2002 and 2006 (Figure 2.1 and Table 2.1). Rates of lifetime alcohol use decreased from 56.5 percent in 2002 to 54.0 percent in 2006 for underage males and from 56.0 to 53.7 percent for underage females. Among underage males, the prevalence of past year dependence or abuse was lower in 2006 (9.6 percent) than in 2004 (10.8 percent) or 2002 (10.9 percent). Among underage females, the prevalence of past year alcohol use was lower in 2006 (46.2 percent) than in 2003 (48.0 percent). There were no differences between 2006 and the previous 4 years of the survey for either males or females on past month alcohol use, binge use, or heavy use.

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This page was last updated on June 19, 2008.