Heavy Alcohol Use Among Young Adults

Among persons aged 18- to 22-years-old, 18 percent of full-time undergraduates were heavy drinkers compared with 12 percent of those who were not full-time undergraduates. Rates of heavy alcohol use were higher for both men and women who were full-time undergraduates compared with other persons aged 18 to 22. More than 1 in 4 men who were full-time undergraduates were heavy drinkers compared with 1 in 10 women who were full-time undergraduates.

Heavy alcohol use may be associated with alcohol dependence. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), alcohol dependence is characterized by increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not used, unsuccessful efforts to cut down on alcohol use, and interference with everyday life.1 In 1999, approximately 9 percent of persons aged 18 to 25 (an estimated 3 million) were dependent on alcohol. The rate of alcohol dependence for persons aged 18 to 25 was higher than for persons aged 12 to 17 (4 percent) and for persons 26 or older (3 percent). Both heavy drinking and alcohol dependence peaked at age 21.

Among young adults aged 18 to 25, the rate of past month illicit drug use was higher with increasing levels of past month alcohol use. Among heavy drinkers, 44 percent had used illicit drugs in the past month compared with 26 percent of “binge” drinkers (persons who had five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past month), 11 percent of nonbinge drinkers, and 5 percent of nondrinkers. This association between heavy drinking and illicit drug use was found for marijuana as well as for illicit drugs other than marijuana.

Source: SAMHSA 1999 NHSDA.