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TABLE 2-2 Drinking Prevalence Among Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders (in percent)


8th Graders

10th Graders

12th Graders





Last 30 days




Heavy Drinking*




*Defined as five or more drinks in a row in the previous 2 weeks.

SOURCE: Data from Johnston et al. (2003).

Overall Drinking Frequency

Although underage drinkers tend to consume alcohol more heavily than the majority of adults, they drink less frequently: 12- to 20-year-olds averaged about 6 drinking days per month, compared with slightly more than 8 days for adults (see Table 2-4). However, while adults drank less than three drinks in a day, young people reported that when they drink, they “usually” consume about four-and-a-half drinks. Again, the evidence shows that adults tend to drink fewer drinks per occasion than young people.

To examine differences more closely, the committee analyzed the same data by the number of days that current drinkers reported drinking heavily in the past month for different age groups (see Table 2-5). This more detailed analysis confirms the similar findings discussed above that drinking patterns for underage drinkers are notably different than those for the adult population. The number of drinks usually consumed on a single occasion is higher for 15- to 20-year-olds than for 21- to 25-year-olds, and is nearly double that of drinkers aged 26 and older. Underage drinkers do have far fewer drinking days than those aged 26 and older: 15- to 17-year-olds have 61 percent as many drinking days, and 18- to 20-year-olds have 80 percent as many drinking days as adults older than 26.

College Drinking Patterns

Much attention has been devoted to drinking on college campuses. A recent report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA, 2002) cited data that about four in five college students drink and that, among these drinkers, about half engage in heavy drinking. A recent

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