1996 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.

In 1996, approximately 109 million persons age 12 and over were current alcohol users, which was about 51 percent of the total population age 12 and older. About 32 million persons (15.5 percent) engaged in binge drinking, and about 11 million Americans (5.4 percent of the population) were heavy drinkers.

About 9.5 million current drinkers were age 12-20 years old in 1996. Of these, 4.4 million were binge drinkers, including 1.9 million heavy drinkers.

Alcohol usage rates for all ages 12 years and older did not change significantly between 1995 and 1996. This was true for all three measures of drinking.

The level of alcohol use was strongly associated with illicit drug use in 1996, as in prior years. Of the 11.2 million heavy drinkers, 31 percent (3.4 million people) were current illicit drug users. Among binge (but not heavy) drinkers, 16 percent (3.3 million) were illicit drug users. Other drinkers (i.e., past month but not binge) had a rate of 5.3 percent (3.7 million) for illicit drug use, while only 1.9 percent (2.0 million) of nondrinkers were illicit drug users (Figure 11).

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Rates of current alcohol use were about or above 60 percent for age groups 21-25, 26-29, 30-34, 35-39, and 40-44 in 1996. 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 half of the drinkers in this age group were binge drinkers and about one in five were heavy drinkers.

Among youths age 12-17, the rate of current alcohol use was 49.8 percent in 1979, 32.5 percent in 1990, 21.1 percent in 1995, and 18.8 percent in 1996.


In 1996, whites continued to have the highest rate of current alcohol use at 54 percent. Rates for Hispanics and blacks were 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively. The rate of binge use was lower among blacks (13.1 percent) than among whites (16.1 percent) and Hispanics (16.7 percent). Heavy use showed no statistically significant differences by race/ethnicity (5.5 percent for whites, 6.2 percent for Hispanics, and 5.3 percent for blacks).


Fifty-nine percent of men were past month alcohol users, compared with 44 percent of women. Men were much more likely than women to be binge drinkers (22.8 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively) and heavy drinkers (9.3 and 1.9 percent, respectively).


The rate of current alcohol use was 54 percent in the North Central region, 55 percent in the Northeast region, 50 percent in the West region, and 47 percent in the South in 1996. Rates of binge use were 19 percent in the North Central, 15 percent in the West, 14 percent in the South, and 13 percent Northeast. Heavy alcohol use rates were 6.4 percent in the North Central, 5.1 percent in the West, 4.5 percent in Northeast and 5.5 percent in the South.

The rate of past month alcohol use was 54 percent in large metropolitan areas, 53 percent in small metropolitan areas, but only 42 percent in nonmetropolitan areas. There was little variation in binge and heavy alcohol use rates by population density.


In contrast to the pattern for illicit drugs, the higher the level of educational attainment, the more likely was the current use of alcohol. In 1996, 66 percent of adults with college degrees were current drinkers, compared with only 39 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 3.7 percent among adults who had completed college and 6.8 percent among adults who had not completed high school.

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This page was last updated on February 05, 2009.