Shifting Age of Peak Binge Drinking Prevalence: Historical Changes in Normative Trajectories Among Young Adults Aged 18 to 30

This study examined the extent to which the developmental pattern of prevalence of binge drinking in the past 2 weeks from ages 18 through 30 has changed across 29 cohorts of U.S. young adults, and whether the changes differed by gender.

Analyses used national longitudinal data from 58,019 12th-grade students (from graduating high school classes 1976 to 2004) participating in the Monitoring the Future study followed through modal age 30 (with age 29/30 data collected from 1987 to 2016). Weighted time-varying effect modeling was used to model cohort group differences in age-related patterns of binge drinking.

The age of peak binge drinking prevalence increased across cohorts (from age 20 in 1976 to 1985 to 22 in 1996 to 2004 for women, and from 21 in 1976 to 1985 to 23 in 1996 to 2004 for men). Historical change in the developmental pattern of binge drinking across all ages of young adulthood differed for men and women. Even after controlling for key covariates, women in the more recent cohort group reported significantly higher binge drinking prevalence than women in earlier cohorts from ages 21 through 30. Men in the more recent cohort group reported higher binge drinking prevalence at ages 25 to 26, but prevalence levels then converged to those seen in earlier cohort groups by age 30.

An older age of peak binge drinking and a decreased rate of decline in the prevalence of binge drinking in later young adulthood among more recent cohorts have resulted in an extension of individual and societal risks associated with binge drinking, particularly for women, across young adulthood. High-risk alcohol use prevention efforts are needed throughout at least the third decade of life.