It’s no secret that college students drink — a lot.
But surprisingly, alcohol and cigarette use among high school students has dropped significantly over the past few decades,
according to a new report on college freshmen from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Entering students in 2014 had the lowest self-reported usage rates in over 30 years, according to the HERI Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey. It stands to reason that, as a result, many people are trying alcohol for the first time as college freshman. Their lack of experience doesn’t stop them from binge drinking.
HERI cites a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) report from 2012, which found that “60.3% of college students ages 18 — 22 drank alcohol in the past month.” During that same period, the NIAA study found, 40.1% of college students indicated binge drinking.
Both of these college student statistics are higher than the current percentage of high school seniors who drink alcohol. Using data from previous years’ CIRP surveys, HERI was able to show the staggering decline in high school alcohol and cigarette use:
Whereas 74.2% of students indicated they “frequently” or “occasionally” drank beer in 1981, the percentage of students in 2014 who had done so declined to 33.5%. Students’ use of wine or hard liquor during senior year of high school dropped from 67.8% in 1987 to 38.7% in 2014. Figure 7 [included below] shows the same trend for students who smoke cigarettes, with 9.2% of students in 1981 reporting frequent cigarette use compared to only 1.7% of students in 2014.
“Such declines reflect a number of social, medical, and legal changes over time, including changes to the legal age of alcohol and tobacco consumption in many states,” according to the HERI report.
This shift could lead to a different strategy for colleges that want to prevent binge drinking in their student body.
“It is clear that college students still drink significantly; however, students are arriving on campus with much less prior experience consuming alcohol than their peers from 20 or 30 years ago. Such changes may have important consequences for alcohol education and other prevention programs,” according to the HERI report.
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