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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017 Jul;78(4):540-548.

Magnitude and Trends in Heavy Episodic Drinking, Alcohol-Impaired Driving, and Alcohol-Related Mortality and Overdose Hospitalizations Among Emerging Adults of College Ages 18-24 in the United States, 1998-2014.

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Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Maryland.
Kelly Government Solutions, Rockville, Maryland.



This article estimates percentages of U.S. emerging adults ages 18-24 engaging in past-month heavy episodic drinking and past-year alcohol-impaired driving, and numbers experiencing alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths and overdose hospitalizations between 1998 and 2014.


We analyzed national injury mortality data from coroner, census, and college enrollment statistics, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample.


From 1999 to 2005, percentages of emerging adults ages 18-24 reporting past-month heavy episodic drinking rose from 37.1% to 43.1% and then declined to 38.8% in 2014. Alcohol-impaired driving rose from 24% to 25.5% and then declined to 16.0%. Alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths increased from 4,807 in 1998 to 5,531 in 2005 and then declined to 4,105 in 2014, a reduction of 29% per 100,000 since 1998. Alcohol-related traffic deaths increased from 3,783 in 1998 to 4,114 in 2005 and then declined to 2,614 in 2014, down 43% per 100,000 since 1998. Alcohol-related overdose deaths increased from 207 in 1998 to 891 in 2014, a 254% increase per 100,000. Other types of nontraffic unintentional injury deaths declined. Alcohol-overdose hospitalizations rose 26% per 100,000 from 1998 to 2014, especially from increases in alcohol/other drug overdoses, up 61% (alcohol/opioid overdoses up 197%).


Among emerging adults, a trend toward increased alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths, heavy episodic drinking, and alcohol-impaired driving between 1998 and 2005 was reversed by 2014. Persistent high levels of heavy episodic drinking and related problems among emerging adults underscore a need to expand individually oriented interventions, college/community collaborative programs, and evidence-supported policies to reduce their drinking and related problems.

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