Alcohol and Young Adults | AspenRidge Recovery Center

In recent years, there has been a notable shift in alcohol consumption patterns among young adults. In the United States, there is a unique dichotomy. While alcohol consumption is overall on the rise, especially among women in their 30s and 40s, a contrasting trend is observed in younger demographics. Among adolescents and young adults, both males and females are rapidly decreasing their alcohol consumption, including binge and high-intensity drinking. This change is so significant that gender rates are converging due to males reducing consumption faster than females.

The reasons behind this shift are multifaceted. Factors such as changing work and study patterns, evolving living arrangements, the impact of the digital era, and a heightened awareness of health and well-being play a crucial role in this transformation. Globally, young adults are redefining their relationship with alcohol, often prioritizing mental health and well-being over traditional social norms of alcohol consumption.

This emerging trend among young adults is more than a passing phase; it reflects a generation increasingly conscious of their lifestyle choices. Understanding these trends is pivotal, as it not only shapes the future of alcohol consumption but also reflects the evolving priorities of the next generation.

Age Groups and Patterns of Drinking Among Young Adults

The landscape of alcohol consumption among young adults is not uniform; it varies significantly across age groups, educational backgrounds, and social settings. Here’s a closer look at these patterns:

  • College vs. Non-College Young Adults: A study examining young adults (Linden-Carmichael & Lanza, 2018) revealed that high-intensity drinking, typically associated with college settings, is not exclusive to college attendees. Surprisingly, both college and non-college-attending young adults showed similar patterns of high-intensity drinking, suggesting that interventions are necessary for this entire age group.
  • Historical Shifts in Binge Drinking Peaks: An intriguing shift is observed in the age of peak binge drinking prevalence. Historically, this peak shifted from around age 20 in the 1970s to age 22-23 in the early 2000s, with notable gender differences in these patterns. These shifts suggest an extension of risks associated with binge drinking into later young adulthood, especially for women.
  • The Need to Delay Onset of Alcohol Consumption: Recent patterns show an increase in intensive episodic drinking among young people. This shift from regular to serial consumption, coupled with diminishing gender differences, highlights the need for tailored prevention strategies to delay the onset of alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults.

These studies underscore the complexity and diversity of drinking patterns among young adults, revealing the need for nuanced and targeted approaches in addressing alcohol consumption in this age group.

Prevalence (%) of Alcohol Use and Heavy/Binge Drinking Among Young Adults

Age GroupLifetimeAnnualPast 30 DaysHeavy/Binge Drinking
National Household Survey on Alcohol Abuse19-2891.283.767.733.7


  1. Caluzzi, G., & Pennay, A. (2019). Alcohol, Young Adults and the New Millennium: Changing Meanings in a Changing Social Climate. In Young Adult Drinking Styles.
  2. Keyes, K., Jager, J., Mal-Sarkar, T., Patrick, M., Rutherford, C., & Hasin, D. (2019). Is There a Recent Epidemic of Women’s Drinking? A Critical Review of National Studies. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research.
  3. Linden-Carmichael, A. N., & Lanza, S. (2018). Drinking Patterns of College- and Non-College-Attending Young Adults: Is High-Intensity Drinking Only a College Phenomenon? Substance Use & Misuse, 53, 2157-2164.
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