1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse:  Preliminary Results

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Estimates of the prevalence of alcohol use are presented primarily for three levels of use, defined for this report as follows:

Current use - At least one drink in the past month (includes binge and heavy use).

Binge use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past month (includes heavy use).

Heavy use - Five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least five different days in the past month.

oIn 1997, approximately 111 million persons age 12 and over were current alcohol users, which was about 51 percent of the total population age 12 and older. About 31.9 million persons (15.3 percent) engaged in binge drinking, and about 11.2 million Americans (5.4 percent of the population) were heavy drinkers.

oAbout 11 million current drinkers were age 12-20 years old in 1997. Of these, 4.8 million were binge drinkers, including 2.0 million heavy drinkers.

oAlcohol usage rates among those 12 years and older did not change between 1996 and 1997. This was true for all three measures of drinking.

oThe level of alcohol use was strongly associated with illicit drug use in 1997, as in prior years. Of the 11.2 million heavy drinkers, 30 percent (3.3 million people) were current illicit drug users. Among binge (but not heavy) drinkers, 18 percent (3.7 million) were illicit drug users. Other drinkers (i.e., past month but not binge) had a rate of 5.1 percent (3.7 million) for illicit drug use, while only 2.3 percent (2.5 million) of nondrinkers were illicit drug users (Figure 11).


oRates of current alcohol use were about or above 60 percent for age groups 21-25, 26-29, 30-34, and 35-39 in 1997. For younger and older age groups, rates were lower. Young adult (18-25 years old) drinkers were the most likely to binge or drink heavily. About 46 percent of the drinkers in this age group were binge drinkers and about one in five were heavy drinkers.

oAmong youth age 12-17, the rate of current alcohol use was about 50 percent in 1979, fell to about 21 percent in 1992, and has remained relatively stable since then.


oIn 1997, whites continued to have the highest rate of current alcohol use at 55 percent. Rates for Hispanics and blacks were 42 percent and 40 percent, respectively. The rate of binge use was lower among blacks (10.3 percent) than among whites (16.3 percent) and Hispanics (16.2 percent). The rate of heavy use was also lower among blacks (3.8 percent) than among whites (5.7 percent) and Hispanics (6.3 percent). The 1997 rates for heavy and binge use among blacks decreased from the 1996 rates. Binge use decreased from 13.1 to 10.3 percent and heavy use decreased from 5.3 to 3.8 percent. There were no other statistically significant differences by race/ethnicity.


oFifty-eight percent of men were past month alcohol users, compared with 45 percent of women. Men were much more likely than women to be binge drinkers (23.0 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively) and heavy drinkers (8.9 and 2.1 percent, respectively).


oThe rate of current alcohol use was 56 percent in the North Central region, 54 percent in the Northeast region, 52 percent in the West region, and 47 percent in the South in 1997. Rates of binge use were 19 percent in the North Central, 15 percent in the South, 14 percent in the West, and 13 percent Northeast. Heavy alcohol use rates were 6.2 percent in the North Central, 5.4 percent in the South, 5.3 percent in Northeast, and 4.6 percent in the West.

oThe rate of past month alcohol use was 54 percent in large metropolitan areas, 52 percent in small metropolitan areas, but only 45 percent in nonmetropolitan areas. There was little variation in binge and heavy alcohol use rates by population density.


oIn contrast to the pattern for illicit drugs, the higher the level of educational attainment, the more likely was the current use of alcohol. In 1997, 67 percent of adults with college degrees were current drinkers, compared with only 38 percent of those having less than a high school education. Binge alcohol use rates did not vary across different levels of education. However, the rate of heavy alcohol use was 5.4 percent among adults who had completed college and 6.7 percent among adults who had not completed high school.

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This page was last updated on February 05, 2009.