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(SAMHSA, 2003). Non-Hispanic white youth consistently report the highest prevalence of all types of drinking.

As shown in Table 2-1, underage drinkers of all ages are much more likely to drink heavily than are adults. Although drinking is very uncommon among 12- to 14-year-olds, even those in this group who drink are more likely to engage in heavy drinking than adults. With increasing age, more youth drink and more drinkers are heavy drinkers. By the ages of 18 to 20, the rate of any alcohol use in the last 30 days is identical with the rate for adults over 26, but among those who drink, the proportion of 18- to 20-year-olds who drink heavily is significantly higher than that of adults over 26. Rates of both any drinking and heavy drinking peak between ages 21 and 25, shortly after drinking has become legal.

Different patterns of adolescent alcohol use have been identified. Schulenberg and his colleagues used ten cohorts from the MTF study to identify six different trajectories for frequent drinking during late adolescence (Schulenberg et al., 1996). These included “chronic drinkers,” who drank heavily in high school and continued this pattern into young adulthood (12 percent of males and 3 percent of females); the “decreased” group, who drank heavily in high school, but reduced their amount of heavy drinking as they moved into adulthood (14 percent of males and 7 percent of females); the “fling” group, who had a low rate of heavy drinking in high school, a substantial increase between the ages of 21 and 22, and a low frequency by age 23 to 34 (9 percent of males and 10 percent of females); the “rare” group, who maintained a low level of heavy drinking in

TABLE 2-1 Drinking Patterns Among Adults and Youths (in percent)

 

Age

Drinking Pattern

12-14

15-17

18-20

21-25

26+

Nondrinkers

93

74

51

38

51

Drinkers

 

Alcohol use but no heavy drinking in past 30 days

51

32

29

36

61

Heavy drinking in past 30 days

42

49

45

44

29

Frequent heavy drinking in past 30 days

8

19

26

21

10

 

SOURCE: Data from the 2000 NHSDA.



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