Statistics on Alcohol Use in the U.S.

Alcohol Use Data From the National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is an annual survey of nearly 270,000 people aged 12 or older, which compiles data about alcohol and drug use. According to the 2016 national survey results, 50.7 percent of those surveyed said that they drank alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey, and were defined as current alcohol drinkers.

NSDUH is directed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The number of people who were current alcohol users in the 2016 survey was slightly decreased from the 51.7 percent of surveyed participants in 2015. The survey also provides statistics regarding drinking habits and different drinking rates based on age groups and gender.

Statistics From NSDUH 2016

The 2016 NSDUH survey asked participants whether they had consumed alcohol at any point during their lifetime, whether they drank over the past year, the past 30 days, and whether they had episodes of heavy drinking or binge drinking.

Results: Of the people surveyed, 80.2 percent reported that they had consumed alcohol at some time during their lifetime, and 64.8 percent said they had consumed some alcohol in the past 12 months.

Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

For the purposes of the NSDUH survey, binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks for males, and four or more drinks for females on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days. Heavy alcohol use was defined as drinking five or more drinks for males, and four or more drinks for females on the same occasion on each of five or more days in the past 30 days. Because of these definitions, all heavy alcohol users reported in NSDUH statistics are also binge drinkers.

Results: Among the 50.7 percent of current drinkers in 2016, 47.8 percent reported binge drinking in the past month, and another 11.9 percent reported heavy drinking in the past 30 days.

Estimated Drinkers by Age Group

The survey estimated current drinkers, binge drinkers, and heavy drinkers based on age groups, including individuals who are not legally permitted to drink alcohol. Current alcohol users were defined as those who drank alcohol in the past 30 days. The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were current alcohol users was 9.2 percent, and 57.1 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 were current alcohol users, while 54.6 percent of adults aged 26 or older were current alcohol users.

The study included more detailed information, which showed rising rates of alcohol consumption throughout adolescence and adulthood, followed by a decrease after age 25.

The following is a list of overall respondents who were current drinkers, binge drinkers, or heavy drinkers.

Ages 12-13

    • Current Drinkers: 1.4 percent (113 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 0.3 percent (26 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 0.0 percent (3 survey respondents)

Ages 14-15

    • Current Drinkers: 7.9 percent (682 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 3.7 percent (322 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 0.5 percent (47 survey respondents)

Ages 16-17

    • Current Drinkers: 17.7 percent (1,494 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 10.2 percent (866 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 1.7 percent (141 survey respondents)

Ages 18-20

    • Current Drinkers: 39.1 percent (4,979 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 26.2 percent (3,327 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 6.9 percent (878 survey respondents)

According to the survey, 19.3 percent of respondents between ages 12 to 20 were drinkers. The rate of binge drinking was 62.5 percent among alcohol drinkers between the ages of 12 and 20, while 14.7 percent of alcohol users in that age group were heavy drinkers.

The drinking rates were higher among adults who can drink alcohol legally than they were among adolescents who cannot drink legally.

Ages 21-25

    • Current Drinkers: 67.6 percent (14,775 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 45.4 percent (9,931 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 12.0 percent (2,622 survey respondents)

Ages 26-34

    • Current Drinkers: 64.1 percent (24,875 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 37.2 percent (14,446 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 9.4 percent (3,651 survey respondents)

Ages 35 and older

    • Current Drinkers: 52.5 percent (89,817 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 21.3 percent (36,408 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 5.2 percent (8,947 survey respondents)

Estimated Current Drinkers by Gender

There were some differences noted in the rates of alcohol consumption when comparing males and females, with males having higher alcohol use, binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Males ages 12 and over

    • Current Drinkers: 55.3 percent (72,286 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 28.9 percent (37,789 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 8.3 percent (10,894 survey respondents)

Females ages 12 and over

    • Current Drinkers: 46.4 percent (64,449 survey respondents)
    • Binge Drinkers: 19.8 percent (27,538 survey respondents)
    • Heavy Drinkers: 3.9 percent (5,394 survey respondents)
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