High-Intensity Drinking Among Young Adults in the United States: Prevalence, Frequency, and Developmental Change

Megan E. Patrick, Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, Deborah D. Kloska, John E. Schulenberg

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135 Scopus citations


Background: This study is the first to examine the developmental course of high-intensity drinking (i.e., consuming 10+ drinks in a row) across late adolescence and the transition to adulthood. Methods: National longitudinal data (N = 3,718) from Monitoring the Future were used to examine trajectories of 10+ high-intensity drinking from age 18 through 25/26 overall and across sociodemographic subgroups; results were compared with similar analysis of 5+ binge drinking trajectories. Results: Results document that 10+ drinkers consume not just a greater quantity of alcohol on a given drinking occasion, but also engage in 5+ drinking more frequently than drinkers who do not report having 10 or more drinks. Developmental patterns for 10+ and 5+ drinking were similar, with peak frequencies reported at age 21/22. Greater peaks in both 10+ and 5+ drinking were documented among men and among college attenders, compared with women and nonattenders, respectively. However, there was a steeper decline in 10+ drinking after age 21/22, indicating that risk for consumption of 10 or more drinks in a row is more clearly focused on the early 20s. Patterns of developmental change in both behaviors were driven largely by college students: No significant age-related change in 10+ drinking was observed among men and women who did not go to college, and no significant age-related change in 5+ drinking was observed among female nonattenders. Conclusions: Findings underscore the importance of recognizing high-intensity drinkers as a unique high-risk group, and that college attendance is associated with particularly strong peaks in the developmental course of high-intensity drinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1905-1912
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2016 by the Research Society on Alcoholism


  • Binge Drinking
  • College Attendance
  • Development
  • Extreme Binge Drinking
  • High-Intensity
  • Trajectories


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