High-intensity drinking decreases for those around 20 but increases for those around 30

Megan Patrick and YSI colleagues compared trends in three levels of high-intensity drinking among young adults. Drinking levels included having 5+ (5 or more in a row), 10+, and 15+ drinks at least once in the 2 weeks before taking the survey.


The good news is that for early young adults high-intensity drinking decreased and was less prevalent in 2015 than in 2005.  Five+ drinking (also called binge drinking) decreased from 18% to 12% for 18-year-olds. It declined by well over half for young adults ages 19/20 (from 32% to 12%) and by almost a third for those aged 23/24 (from 39% to 27%).


Ten+ drinking (also called high-intensity drinking) dropped almost two thirds from 14% in 2005 to 5% in 2015 for ages 19 and 20. Fifteen+ drinking decreased from 5% in 2005 to 2% in 2015 for ages 21 and 22. Other early young adult age groups also showed decreasing trends but these did not reach statistical significance.


The bad news is that heavy drinking became more common among those in their late 20s. For adults ages 29 and 30, 5+ drinking increased from 19% in 2005 to 27% in 2015. Ten+ drinking also increased, and 15+ drinking went from hardly any (rounded at 0%) in 2005 to 5% in 2015.




For those in their mid 20s, heavy drinking remained generally the same from 2005 to 2015.


Findings are based on surveys from 6,711 participants in the Monitoring the Future study (MTF) who answered one or more questions on 5+, 10+, and 15+ drinking between 2005 and 2015. MTF is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Dr. Patrick’s paper Age-specific prevalence of binge and high-intensity drinking among U.S. young adults: Changes from 2005 to 2015 is published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Infographic credit: Carola Carlier, The Youth and Social Issues Program, University of Michigan