Results of this year’s Monitoring the Future survey were released on 14 December by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which sponsors the study, and the University of Michigan, which designed and conducted the study.
There has generally been a long-term decline in the use of alcohol by teens in the US going back to the 1980s. This gradual decline in alcohol use continued into 2011, when all grades showed a further drop in all measures of alcohol use—lifetime, annual, 30-day, daily, and 5+ drinks on one or more occasions during the prior two weeks. For the three grades combined, the one-year declines in 2011 were statistically significant on all of these measures.
All of these statistics are at historic lows over the life of the study (since 1975 among 12th graders and since 1991 among 8th and 10th graders.) For example, over the past 20 years, from 1991 to 2011, the proportion of 8th graders reporting any use of alcohol in the prior 30 days has fallen by about half (from 25% to 13%), among 10th graders by more than one third (from 43% to 27%), and among 12th graders by about one fourth (from 54% to 40%).
“These are substantial changes in a long-established behavior in our culture,” concludes Johnston, “and we believe that a number of factors have contributed to it.” In the 1980s a number of states raised their minimum drinking age to twenty-one, but even among the states that already had an age 21 law, there was some decline in drinking, possibly due in part to
campaigns to reduce drunk driving and to encourage the use of designated drivers. The dangers perceived to be associated with episodic heavy drinking grew in the 1980s, as did students’ personal disapproval of such drinking. Both of these measures also rose in the 2000s, but more slowly.
Another contributing factor likely has been lowered availability, particularly for the younger teens. Various other factors of likely importance include the advent of zero tolerance laws for drivers under age 21, higher beer taxes, and restrictions on alcohol promotion to youth.
The proportion of students reporting having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey also fell in all three grades in 2011. For the three grades combined, the one-year decline (-1.3 percentage points) was highly significant (p < .01); this statistic has declined by about one third since 1991, from 20% to 13.6%. The decline has been greatest for the younger teens during this period: with a drop of 41% among 8th graders versus 28% among 12th graders. However, the 12th graders showed a considerable decline prior to 1991. Overall their reported prevalence of this behaviour has fallen from 41% in 1981 to 22% in 2011, reflecting a decline of nearly one half over the past 30 years). Consumption of all categories of alcoholic beverages monitored has been in decline, with hard liquor showing the least decline.