Why and Where US 12th graders drink (a lot)

“To have a good time” and “at a party” were the most common reason and context for drinking among US high school seniors, no matter how much they drank in one sitting. However, high-intensity drinkers (who had 10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) were more likely to drink for coping, compulsive use, and drug effect reasons, as well as for enjoying the taste.


Having 15 or more drinks in a row (vs. 10-14 drinks) was especially associated with compulsive use and enjoying the taste. As 12th graders endorsed a greater number of reasons for drinking and drinking contexts, the relative risk for high-intensity drinking went up, as did the likelihood of higher levels of high-intensity drinking.


Data came from 16,902 high school seniors who reported any past 12-month alcohol use in years 2005 to 2016 while participating in the annual, cross-sectional, nationally representative student surveys of the Monitoring the Future study. When asked about the highest number of drinks consumed in a row during the past two weeks, 72% of high school seniors reported consuming less than 5 drinks, 14% reported 5-9 drinks, 7% reported 10-14 drinks, and 7% reported 15+ drinks in a row.


The researchers conclude that alcohol appears to serve specific and a larger number of functions for high-intensity drinking 12th graders than for youth who drink less. This information is relevant for targeted interventions to reduce harm from alcohol use.


Do alcohol use reasons and contexts differentiate adolescent high-intensity drinking? Data from U.S. High school seniors, 2005-2016 was recently published online in Psychology and Addictive Behaviors. Monitoring the Future is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.