Alcohol Abuse Disorders Continue to Decline

The results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health were recently released, and while the lion’s share of media coverage concentrated on the survey’s opioid findings, the results also show a variety of interesting trends regarding alcohol.

First, the number of minors who consumed alcohol continued to stay below levels from the early 2000s. In 2002, around 17 percent of respondents age 12-17 reported having alcohol at least once in the previous month, compared to just below 10 percent in 2017 (see red line in graph below).

Even more encouragingly, the prevalence of alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) continued its long-term decline. AUD is defined under the DSM-IV classification system, and is meant to capture those with alcohol dependence or abuse.

For all Americans age 12 and older, the percentage of individuals with alcohol disorders has dropped from 7.7 percent of the population in 2002 to 5.3 percent in 2017—an over 30 percent decline. For minors the news was even better, with rates of AUD dropping by almost 70% in recent years (from 5.9 percent of 12-17 year olds in 2002, to 1.8 percent in 2017). Achieving a sub-2 percent rate among young children is a particularly eye-catching and encouraging number for a country of 300 million. Finally, in the 17-25 year range—which includes the college-age demographic—there’s been an over 40% decline in AUD rates.

Our ethos for R Street’s alcohol policy program has long been to favor rational alcoholic beverage policies that respect individual freedom, free enterprise, and the public well-being. We take the public well-being part of this equation seriously, which is why it’s encouraging to see alcohol abuse disorders continue to fall to new lows.