Chapter 3. Alcohol Use
A set of questions on the NHSDA asks about the recency and frequency of the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, brandy, and mixed drinks. An extensive list of examples of the kinds of beverages covered is given to respondents prior to the question administration. A "drink" is defined as a can or bottle of beer, a glass of wine or a wine cooler, a shot of liquor, or a mixed drink with liquor in it. Times when the respondent only had a sip or two from a drink are not considered as consumption. For this report, estimates for the prevalence of alcohol use are primarily at three levels defined as follows:
Current use - At least one drink in the past 30 days (includes binge and heavy use).
Binge use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the 30 days prior to survey (includes heavy use).
Heavy use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion at least five different days in the past 30 days.
A summary of the findings from the 2000 NHSDA alcohol questions is given below:
- Almost half of Americans aged 12 and older reported being current drinkers of alcohol in the 2000 survey (46.6 percent). This translates to an estimated 104 million people. Both the rate of alcohol use and the number of drinkers were nearly the same in 2000 as in 1999 (46.4 percent and 103 million).
- Approximately one-fifth (20.6 percent) of persons aged 12 years and older (46 million people) participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to survey. This represents approximately 44 percent of all current drinkers. These 2000 estimates are all similar to the estimates for 1999.
- Heavy drinking was reported by 5.6 percent of the population aged 12 and older, or 12.6 million people. These 2000 estimates are almost identical to the 1999 estimates.
- For current alcohol use, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol use, 21 is the age of peak prevalence. This was the case in both 1999 and 2000.
- The prevalence of current alcohol use in 2000 increased with increasing age for youth, from 2.4 percent at age 12 to a peak of 65.2 percent for persons 21 years old. Unlike prevalence patterns observed for cigarettes and illicit drugs, current alcohol use remained steady among older age groups. For people aged 21 to 25 and those aged 26 to 34, the rates of current alcohol use were 62.4 and 58.3 percent, respectively, in 2000. The prevalence of alcohol use was slightly lower for persons in their 40s. In the case of those aged 60 to 64, past month drinking was reported by 43.2 percent of respondents and 32.0 percent of persons 65 and older reported current drinking (Figure 3.1).
- The highest prevalence of both binge and heavy drinking in 2000 was for young adults aged 18 to 25, with the peak rate occurring at age 21. The rate of binge drinking was 37.8 percent for young adults and 45.2 percent at age 21. Heavy alcohol use was reported by 12.8 percent of persons aged 18 to 25, and 16.7 percent among persons age 21. Binge and heavy alcohol use rates decrease faster with increasing age than do rates of past month alcohol use. While half of the population aged 45 to 49 in 2000 were current drinkers, fewer than one in five persons within this age range binge drank and fewer than one in twenty drank heavily (Figure 3.1).
- Among youths aged 12 to 17 years, an estimated 16.4 percent used alcohol in the month prior to the survey interview. Of all youths, 10.4 percent were binge drinkers, and 2.6 percent were heavy drinkers. All three of these rates are nearly identical to the corresponding rates in 1999.
Underage Alcohol Use
- About 9.7 million persons aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol in the month prior to the survey interview in 2000 (27.5 percent of this age group). Of these, 6.6 million (18.7 percent of persons aged 12 to 20) were binge drinkers and 2.1 million (6.0 percent of persons aged 12 to 20) were heavy drinkers. All of these 2000 rates are similar to rates observed in 1999.
- Binge alcohol rates in 2000 were 1.0 percent for 12 year olds, 3.0 percent for 13 year olds, and 6.0 percent for 14 year olds.
- Males aged 12 to 20 were more likely than their female peers to report binge drinking in 2000 (21.3 percent compared to 15.9 percent).
- Among people aged 12 to 20, past month alcohol use rates ranged from 13.5 percent for Asians to 30.7 percent for whites and 29.3 percent for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The rate for Asians decreased from 19.8 percent in 1999 to 13.5 percent in 2000. Binge drinking was reported by 21.4 percent of underage whites and 20.3 percent of underage American Indians or Alaska Natives, but only 7.9 percent of underage Asians and 10.3 percent of underage blacks.
- Combined 1999 and 2000 data indicate variations in the rates of underage alcohol use across Asian subgroups. Rates of past month use ranged from 8.4 percent for Vietnamese and 12.6 percent for Chinese to 19.1 percent for Filipino and 21.1 percent for Korean (Figure 3.2).
- Across geographic divisions in 2000, underage current alcohol use rates ranged from 23.1 percent in the East South Central Division and 23.8 percent in the Pacific Division to 34.9 percent in New England. Between 1999 and 2000, there was a decrease in underage drinking in the Midwest Region (from 31.6 percent to 29.3 percent), and an increase in underage drinking in the South Atlantic Division (from 22.8 percent to 26.5 percent).
- In 2000, underage current alcohol use rates were similar in large metropolitan areas (26.5 percent), small metropolitan areas (28.8 percent), and nonmetropolitan areas (27.7 percent). The rate in nonmetropolitan rural areas was 24.5 percent.
- Except among youths aged 12 to 17, males were more likely than females to report past month alcohol drinking. In 2000, 53.6 percent of males (ages 12 and older) were current drinkers compared to 40.2 percent of females.
- For the youngest age group (12 to 17), males and females had comparable rates of current alcohol use in 2000 (16.2 percent of males and 16.5 percent of females). However, rates of binge and heavy alcohol use were slightly higher among male youths than female youths in both 1999 and 2000.
- Among pregnant women aged 15-44 years in 1999 and 2000 combined, 12.4 percent used alcohol and 3.9 percent were binge drinkers. These rates are substantially lower than the rates for nonpregnant women of that age (48.7 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively).
- Whites were more likely than any other race/ethnicity group to report current use of alcohol in 2000. An estimated 50.7 percent of whites reported past month use. The next highest rates were for persons reporting more than one race (41.6 percent) and Hispanics (39.8 percent). The lowest current drinking rate was observed for Asians (28.0 percent). The rate was 33.7 percent for blacks and 35.1 for American Indians/Alaska Natives.
- Binge alcohol use was least likely to be reported by Asians (11.6 percent) and most likely to be reported by American Indians/Alaska Natives (26.2 percent).
- Among youths aged 12 to 17 years in 2000, blacks and Asians were least likely to report past month alcohol use. Only 7.1 percent of Asian youths and 8.8 percent of black youths were current drinkers, while rates were above 16 percent for other racial/ethnic groups.
- The rate of past month alcohol use increased with increasing levels of education. Among adults aged 18 and older with less than a high school education, 33.9 percent were current drinkers in 2000, while 63.2 percent of college graduates were current drinkers. However, binge and heavy drinking was least prevalent among college graduates (Figure 3.3).
- Young adults aged 18 to 22 enrolled full-time in college were more likely than their peers not enrolled full-time (this category includes part-time college students and persons not enrolled in college) to report all 3 levels of drinking in 2000. Past month alcohol use was reported by 62.0 percent of full-time college students compared to 50.8 percent of their counterparts who were not currently enrolled full-time. Binge and heavy use rates for college students were 41.4 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, compared with 35.9 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively, for other persons aged 18 to 22.
- Among full-time college students 18 to 22 years of age, males were more likely than females to report all three levels of drinking in 2000. Of the full-time undergraduates, 65.3 percent of males and 59.0 percent of females reported current alcohol use. Among full-time male college students, 48.9 percent reported binge drinking and 22.7 percent reported heavy drinking. More than a third (35.0 percent) of female full-time college students were binge drinkers in the 2000 survey and 10.9 percent reported heavy alcohol use.
- Rates for current alcohol use were 57.3 percent for full-time employed adults aged 18 and older in 2000 compared to 49.1 percent of their unemployed peers. The pattern is different for binge and heavy alcohol use; rates were higher for unemployed than for full-time employed persons, although differences were not statistically significant.
- The rate of past month alcohol use in the population aged 12 and older in 2000 was lowest in the East South Central Division (33.7 percent) and highest in New England (59.3 percent).
- Among all people aged 12 and older, the rate of alcohol use in 2000 was highest in large metropolitan areas (50.1 percent) and lowest in completely rural areas (35.6 percent). However, there was less variation across county types in rates of binge and heavy drinking. The rate of heavy alcohol use was 5.2 percent in large metropolitan areas and 6.9 percent in completely rural areas.
- Patterns of alcohol use across county type varied by age group in 2000. For example, among youths aged 12 to 17, rates of past month alcohol use as well as heavy alcohol use were higher in rural areas than in large metropolitan areas. Among young adults aged 18 to 25, the rate of past month use was higher in large metropolitan areas than rural areas, while there was no difference in heavy use rates across these county types. For older adults (age 26 and older), past month use was greater in large metropolitan areas and heavy use was greater in rural areas. (Figures 3.4 and 3.5)
Association with Illicit Drug and Tobacco Use
- As observed in prior years, the level of alcohol use was strongly associated with illicit drug use in 2000. Among the 12.6 million heavy drinkers aged 12 and older, 30.0 percent were current illicit drug users. For binge drinkers who were not heavy drinkers, 13.9 percent reported past month illicit drug use. Other drinkers (i.e. past month alcohol use but not binge drinking) had a rate of 4.6 percent for current illicit drug use, and persons who did not use alcohol in the past month were least likely to use illicit drugs (2.5 percent).
- Drinking levels were also associated with tobacco use. Among heavy alcohol users, 60.1 percent smoked cigarettes in the past month, while only 21.3 percent of non-binge current drinkers and 17.9 percent of nondrinkers were current smokers. Smokeless tobacco and cigar use was also more prevalent among heavy drinkers than among non-binge drinkers and nondrinkers.
Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol
- One in ten Americans aged 12 and older in 2000 (22.3 million persons) drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the 12 months prior to interview. Between 1999 and 2000, the rate of driving under the influence of alcohol declined from 10.9 percent to 10.0 percent. Among young adults aged 18 to 25 years, 19.9 percent drove under the influence of alcohol in 2000.
This page was last updated on June 03, 2008.