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

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017 Jul;78(4):540-548. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2017.78.540.


Objective: 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.

Method: 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.

Results: 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%).

Conclusions: 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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / mortality*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / poisoning*
  • Automobile Driving* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cause of Death
  • Drug Overdose
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • United States
  • Universities / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid