After years of increases in binge drinking among the college crowd, new research shows those rates have now dropped.
Unfortunately, the reverse held true for young adults who did not go to college.
Between 1999 and 2005, binge drinking among college students jumped from 37 percent to 45 percent. But that trend reversed itself after 2005, landing back at 37 percent by 2014, according to the analysis from the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Meanwhile, binge drinking rates among those who were not enrolled in college increased from 36 percent to 40 percent between 1999 and 2014.
“For many years, there was an increase in the percentage of college students in national surveys who binged,” said study first author Ralph Hingson, director of the division of epidemiology and prevention research at NIAAA. “We saw that up until 2005.
“But since then, the percentages have gone down,” he noted. “Same thing for driving under the influence of alcohol and our estimates of alcohol-related unintentional injuries.
“But there is still a lot of work to do,” Hingson cautioned, with binge drinking on the rise among 18 to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in college. “And this group now has a higher percentage of binge drinkers than same-age college students,” he added.
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of excessive consumption that usually involves imbibing four drinks (among women) or five drinks (among men) within a two-hour period.
To get a handle on binge drinking trends among young Americans, the investigators culled data collected by a wide swath of government agencies.
The team found that alcohol-impaired driving among college students declined from 29 percent in 2005 to 17 percent in 2014.
Similarly, alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths and traffic deaths fell nearly 30 percent and 43 percent, respectively, among the same age group between 1998 and 2014.
The findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Hingson suggested that the strides made against binge drinking on college campuses reflect “increased efforts at federal, state and community level to reduce underage drinking.”
For example, he noted that as of 2005 all 50 states had adopted an 0.08 percent blood alcohol level limit for drivers, up from just 17 states back in 2000. As well, 38 states now have underage drinking strategic plans.
“The last thing is the downturn in the economy,” he added. “People have less discretionary income, and so less money to spend on alcohol.”
But Hingson theorized that kids not enrolled in college may also suffer from the relative lack of structure, discipline and support in their lives.
“There is no silver bullet to solve the problematic trend among this age group,” he added, “and we need to expand our efforts at every level: individual, school, family, environmental policy and community.”
Joy Bohyun Jang, a postdoctoral researcher with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings among college students.
“It is actually similar to the overall decline in binge drinking among adolescents since the 2000s,” she noted. “But I’m concerned about the increase among those not in college.” Jang was not involved with the study.
“Such diverging trends,” she added, “may be an indication that the policy and interventions are not equally effective and/or not reaching all populations in young adulthood.”
And, she added a caution about college students’ drinking behaviors.
“We may have to keep an eye on their substance-use behaviors broadly,” Jang explained, “because the decline in drinking could mean that they use other drugs.”