Health United States 2020-2021

Alcohol consumption

Measured differently in the following data systems. (Also see: Sources and Definitions, Binge alcohol use; Heavy alcohol use.)


Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study

This school-based survey of secondary school students collects information on alcohol use by using self-completed questionnaires. To determine whether they have tried alcohol in their lifetime, students are asked a preliminary alcohol consumption screening question: “Have you ever had any alcoholic beverage to drink—more than just a few sips?” where alcohol beverage is defined as beer, wine, liquor, and any other beverage that contains alcohol. Students who reply in the affirmative are then asked additional questions about their alcohol consumption over different time frames: “On how many occasions (if any) have you had alcohol to drink—more than just a few sips… in your lifetime, … in the last 12 months, … in the last 30 days?” A subsequent question asks, “Think back over the last 2 weeks. How many times have you had five or more drinks in a row?” A drink is defined as a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, a shot glass of liquor, a mixed drink, and others.


National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)

Measures alcohol consumption by asking respondents aged 12 years and over about their alcohol use in the 30 days before the interview. Measures of use of alcohol in the respondent’s lifetime, the past year, and the past month are derived from responses to questions about lifetime and recency of use (that is, “Have you ever, even once, had a drink of any type of alcoholic beverage?” and “How long has it been since you last drank an alcoholic beverage?”). The question about recency of use was asked if respondents previously reported any use of alcohol in their lifetime. Current alcohol use is defined as any use of alcohol in the past 30 days. In addition to asking about any alcohol use, NSDUH collects information on binge alcohol use and heavy alcohol use, which are not mutually exclusive categories.

Page last reviewed: August 12, 2022