On her 21st birthday, Rabbah Johnson experienced a first: not a legal cocktail, but a roller coaster ride at Six Flags.
She’d never been on one before and knew she wanted to change that. The incoming junior at Temple University had never had alcohol, either, but that didn’t concern her much.
“It’s something I never did, and I’m perfectly fine with it,” she said.
Her attitude reflects a decades-long trend that may seem surprising amid reports of Greek life gone wild and alcohol-involved sexual assault: Young people in the United States are consuming less alcohol. According to the Monitoring the Future Study — an annual national survey of 50,000 adolescents and young adults in America — alcohol use has dropped steeply since the 1990s.
That’s not to say everyone is going sober. Alcohol is still a large part of American culture, from happy hour after work to frat parties on college campuses — and so are the tragedies that can result. But researchers have found that young people today are throwing back fewer drinks than their counterparts 10 or 15 years ago. The decline is most significant in teens, but also present among adults in their 20s. The same trend has been recorded in Australia, the U.K., and several European countries.
In Pennsylvania, middle and high school students are binge-drinking less than their peers across the country, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s biennial report on Underage and High-Risk Drinking. And college students are consuming slightly less than the national average.