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Indicator 14: Students’ Use of Alcohol
(Last Updated: April 2019)

The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days decreased from 47 to 30 percent between 2001 and 2017.

This indicator uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to examine the percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol during the previous 30 days.1 Adolescent alcohol use is associated with various negative outcomes, such as physical injury, suicide ideation, delinquency, and risky behaviors (Barnes, Welte, and Hoffman 2002; Bonomo et al. 2001; Mason et al. 2010; Schilling et al. 2009). In most states, the purchase or public possession of alcohol anywhere by students in grades 9–12 is illegal, since most students are under the minimum legal drinking age.

Between 2001 and 2017, the percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days decreased from 47 to 30 percent (figure 14.1 and table 14.1). However, the percentages of students who reported using alcohol in 2015 and in 2017 were not measurably different. In 2017, about 16 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported using alcohol on 1 or 2 days during the previous 30 days, 13 percent reported using alcohol on 3 to 29 of the previous 30 days, and 1 percent reported using alcohol on all of the previous 30 days (table 14.2).


Figure 14.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 14.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2001 through 2017.


In 2001, the percentage of male students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days was higher than the percentage of female students who reported doing so (49 vs. 45 percent). In every survey year between 2003 and 2015, the percentages of male and female students who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days were not measurably different (figure 14.1 and table 14.1). However, in 2017, a higher percentage of female than of male students reported using alcohol on at least 1 of the previous 30 days (32 vs. 28 percent). While the percentage of students who reported using alcohol decreased for both male (from 49 to 28 percent) and female (from 45 to 32 percent) students between 2001 and 2017, the decrease was larger for male students (22 percentage points) than for female students (13 percentage points). Consistent with the difference between male and female students in overall alcohol use in 2017, a higher percentage of female than of male students in 2017 reported using alcohol on 1 or 2 days during the previous 30 days (18 vs. 15 percent; table 14.2). In contrast, a higher percentage of male than of female students reported using alcohol on all of the previous 30 days (0.9 vs. 0.3 percent).

In 2017, the percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol during the previous 30 days increased with grade level. About 19 percent of 9th-graders reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, compared with 27 percent of 10th-graders, 34 percent of 11th-graders, and 41 percent of 12th-graders (figure 14.2 and table 14.1). Additionally, a higher percentage of 12th-graders reported using alcohol on 3 to 29 days during the previous 30 days (18 percent) than 9th- and 10th-graders (7 percent and 11 percent, respectively), and a higher percentage of 12th-graders reported consuming alcohol on all of the previous 30 days (1 percent) than 9th-graders (less than 1 percent; table 14.2).


Figure 14.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by grade: 2017

Figure 14.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by grade: 2017

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2017.


The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol during the previous 30 days also varied by race/ethnicity. In 2017, the percentage of students who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days was higher for students of Two or more races (33 percent), White students (32 percent), and Hispanic students (31 percent) than for Black students (21 percent), Pacific Islander students (19 percent), and Asian students (12 percent; table 14.1). In addition, the percentage was higher for American Indian/Alaska Native students (32 percent) and Black students than for Asian students.

Since 2015, the YRBS has included a question to identify students’ sexual orientation by asking students in grades 9–12 which of the following best described them—“heterosexual (straight),” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “not sure.”2 In 2017, a higher percentage of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students than of heterosexual students reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days (37 vs. 30 percent), as well as on 3 to 29 days during the previous 30 days (18 vs. 13 percent; figure 14.3 and table 14.2). Additionally, higher percentages of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students and heterosexual students than of students who were not sure about their sexual orientation reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, as well as on 1 or 2 days and 3 to 29 days during the previous 30 days.


Figure 14.3. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by number of days and sexual orientation: 2017

Figure 14.3. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by number of days and sexual orientation: 2017

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: Students were asked which sexual orientation—“heterosexual (straight),” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “not sure”—best described them. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2017.


In 2017, state-level data on the percentages of students in grades 9–12 who reported using alcohol during the previous 30 days were available for 39 states and the District of Columbia (table 14.3).3 Among these jurisdictions, the percentages of students who reported using alcohol on at least 1 day during the previous 30 days ranged from 11 percent in Utah to 34 percent in Louisiana.


This indicator repeats information from the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018 report. For more information: Tables 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), (https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf).


1 In 2011 and earlier years, the YRBS also collected data on student alcohol use on school property during the previous 30 days. Readers interested in these data should refer to the appendix tables or earlier editions of the report.
2 In this indicator, students who identified as “gay or lesbian” or “bisexual” are discussed together as the “gay, lesbian, or bisexual” group. Although there are likely to be differences among students who identify with each of these orientations, small sample sizes preclude analysis for each of these groups separately. Students were not asked whether they identified as transgender on the YRBS.
3 U.S. total data are representative of all public and private school students in grades 9–12 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. U.S. total data were collected through a separate national survey rather than being aggregated from state-level data.