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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108 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

Funding Information:
This study was funded by support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01 AA023504 to MEP, PI) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA001411 and R01 DA016575 to L. Johnston, PI). The content here is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsors. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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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