The latest Monitoring the Future report finds that the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco among American teens has declined to the lowest rate since the 1990s. The national study, now in its 42nd year, surveys about 45,000 students in 380 public and private secondary schools each year. The study is designed and conducted by research scientists at U-M's Institute for Social Research and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study gathers data on students in the grades 8, 10 and 12. For all three grades, both annual and monthly prevalence of alcohol use are at historic lows over the life of the study.
Among all students (in the grades 8, 10 and 12 combined), 58 % have not consumed alcohol in their lifetime indicating a continuing delay in the onset of drinking among America’s youth. Lifetime use has dropped from 70%, 83% and 88% in 1991 to 22%, 43% and 66% for grades 8,10 and 12 respectively.
Current alcohol consumption continued to trend downward in 2016. For all three grades levels current consumption and binge drinking are at their lowest levels in the history of the Monitoring the Future study. 7% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders and 33% of 12th graders self-reported consuming alcohol in the past month.
Measures of heavy alcohol use are also down considerably, including self-reports of having been drunk in the previous 30 days and of binge drinking in the prior two weeks (defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion). Binge drinking has fallen by half or more at each grade level since peak rates were reached at the end of the 1990s. The latest figures show that the proportions who binge drink are 3 %, 10 % and 16 % in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively.
Since 2005, 12th graders have also been asked about 'extreme binge drinking’ - In 2016, 4.4 % of 12th graders reported drinking at the level of 10 or more drinks in a row, down by about two thirds from 13% in 2006. Rates of daily drinking among teens has also fallen considerably over the same intervals. Consumption of flavoured alcoholic beverages and alcoholic beverages containing caffeine have both declined since each was first measured—again, particularly among the younger teens.
Peer disapproval and perceived risk of binge drinking continues to increase among American teens. At the same time, the study reports that the ease of access to alcohol continues to decrease. Each of these variables may play a contributing role in the noted declines in underage alcohol consumption.