Special Report

Which Age Group Has the Biggest Heavy Drinking Problem in America

AleksandarGeorgiev / E+ via Getty Images

Alcohol consumption in America spiked during the pandemic, according to a 2020 study by the RAND corporation – which reported that drinking frequency rose by 14% in adults over 30. Despite this pandemic-fueled increase, the number of adults who engage in alcohol consumption has actually decreased from pre-pandemic numbers. According to a poll from Gallup, about 60% of adults drank alcohol in 2021, as opposed to 65% in 2019.

Of the 133 million people who did drink in 2021, 45% engaged in binge drinking – defined as having five or more alcoholic beverages on the same occasion for men, or four for women – while 12.8% admitted to heavy drinking, which involves binge drinking on at least five occasions within a 30-day period. These are the states with the highest rates of binge drinking.

To compile a list of the current, binge, and heavy alcohol use in the U.S. among people aged 12 years and older, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a report by the data site Statista, which analyzed data from a survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey, which was conducted over a period of time in 2021, included around 70,000 participants who were asked about their drinking habits in the past month. The results were published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in January 2023.

Click here to learn which age group has the biggest heavy drinking problem in America

Young adults aged 21 to 25 constitute the largest group of drinkers, with 62.2% engaging in alcohol consumption, as well as the largest group of binge drinkers, with 36.8% having five or more drinks on a single occasion. Following closely behind, 26- to 29-year olds have the second highest rates of both current and binge drinking, as well as the highest rates of heavy drinking. Over 10% of 26- to 29-year olds engaged in binge drinking on five or more occasions in a 30-day period.

With the legal drinking age being 21, it’s no surprise that more young adults in the 21- to 25-year age range drink than any other group. However, 31.3% of 18- to 21-year-olds also admitted to drinking alcohol, with 17.2% engaging in binge drinking. Although younger teens also admitted to drinking alcohol, rates of drinking among teens from grades 8 to 12 have decreased significantly since the early ‘90s, from about 40% in 1991 to 15% in 2021. (See how much Americans have been drinking almost every year since 1850.)

12-13 year-olds
> Currently drinking: 1.9% — #14 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 0.7% — #14 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: Not available

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14-15 year-olds
> Currently drinking: 5.8% — #13 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 3.2% — #13 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 0.3% — #13 highest out of 14

16-17 year-olds
> Currently drinking: 13.6% — #12 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 7.8% — #12 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 1.0 — #12 highest out of 14

18-20 year-olds
> Currently drinking: 31.3% — #11 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 17.2% — #10 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 3.9 — #10 highest out of 14

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21-25 year-olds
> Currently drinking: 62.2% — #1 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 36.8% — #1 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 9.1 — #2 highest out of 14

26-29-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 61.0% — #2 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 34.7% — #2 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 10.5% — #1 highest out of 14

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30-34-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 58.6% — #3 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 30.9% — #3 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 8.1% — #3 highest out of 14

35-39-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 56.2% — #5 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 27.3% — #5 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 7.0% — #7 highest out of 14

40-44-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 57.6% — #4 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 29.3% — #4 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 8.1% — #4 highest out of 14

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45-49-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 54.3% — #7 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 24.6% — #6 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 7.2%– #5 highest out of 14

50-54-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 55.9% — #6 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 22.3% — #7 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 6.7% — #8 highest out of 14

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55-59-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 51.1% — #8 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 21.9% — #8 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 7.1% — #6 highest out of 14

60-64-year-olds
> Currently drinking: 47.8% — #9 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 18.3% — #9 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 5.4% — #9 highest out of 14

65+ year-olds
> Currently drinking: 42.2% — #10 highest out of 14
> Binge drinking: 11.4% — #11 highest out of 14
> Heavy drinking: 2.8% — #11 highest out of 14

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