Bottom’s Up: Binge Drinking Surges Among Young Americans
Our analysis of the most recent CDC data finds self-reported binge drinking spiked between 2019 and 2021 among U.S. adults aged 18 to 24 years. Find out which states saw double or even triple the rate of young binge drinkers in just three years.
- Binge drinking among young adults in Rhode Island increased 241% between 2019 and 2021.
- Iowa (211%) and the District of Columbia (209%) each had increases of more than 200%.
- Binge drinking among young adults more than doubled during the study period in 11 states and Washington D.C.
- All but nine states reported an increase in binge drinking among young adults.
- All states with sufficient data averaged a 59% increase in binge drinking among young adults from 2019 to 2021.
Youth binge drinking rates have spiked across America.
Our analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds increased rates of binge drinking among adults aged 18 to 24 in more than 40 states from 2019 to 2021. In some states, the rate doubled or even tripled.
Binge drinking is defined as a male having five or more drinks or a female having four or more drinks on one occasion (within approximately two hours). The data analyzed was accessed through the CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Prevalence & Trends Data tool and represents the most recent such data available.
All but nine states reported an increase in binge drinking among residents 18 to 24 years of age between 2019 and 2021.
In Rhode Island, binge drinking increased more than 241% from 2019 to 2021 for those ages 18 to 24. One in four young adults in Rhode Island self-report as binge drinkers.
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Eleven other states (including Washington, D.C.) saw young adult binge-drinking rates spike by at least double during the study period:
- Iowa (211.2% increase)
- District of Columbia (209.1%)
- Pennsylvania (150.5%)
- North Dakota (144.3%)
- Vermont (130.1%)
- Wisconsin (130.0%)
- Connecticut (129.8%)
- Colorado (123.9%)
- Virginia (116.5%)
- South Dakota (113.5%)
- Montana (113.0%)
Of the 48 states (and Washington, D.C.) that reported data, adult binge drinking increased by an average rate of 59.4% from 2019 to 2021.
The highest rates of young adult binge drinking in 2021 were in Montana (33.2%), the District of Columbia (30.6%) and Iowa (30.3%).
Only Texas, Arkansas, Utah, Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma and New Mexico reported a decrease in binge drinking rates, while New Jersey and Florida had insufficient data.
Given the date range of the study, it may be logical to draw a correlation between the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase of binge drinking.
- Alcohol sales spiked during the pandemic.
- Participants in some studies of alcohol consumption during the pandemic cited stress, availability of alcohol and boredom as reasons for increased drinking.
But binge drinking, or “high-risk drinking,” had been trending upwards long before the pandemic.
- A study sponsored by the federal agency for alcohol research and published in JAMA Psychiatry showed a substantial increase in high-risk drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a day for a male and four or more drinks for a female) between 2001 and 2013.
- Interestingly, the study found a larger increase of high-risk drinking in older adults compared to young adults.
Some of the reasons commonly cited for binge drinking include stress, social anxiety, peer pressure, lack of awareness of alcohol tolerance and increased dopamine when drinking.
The CDC lists a number of health risks associated with binge drinking:
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Alcohol poisoning
- Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease and liver disease
- Cancers in the breasts, liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus
- Sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies
- Miscarriages, stillbirths, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and sudden infant death syndrome
- Violence, sexual assault and suicide
- Memory and learning problems
The data used for this report came from 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCD) Division of Population Health, the most recent data available.