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Quantifying the Insane Alcohol Consumption of the U.S.

In the United States, more than half of adults over the age of 18 are regular drinkers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, more than 13 percent of people over 18 identify themselves as infrequent drinkers. In 2010, almost 16,000 people died from alcohol-induced liver disease. There were more than 25,000 alcohol-induced deaths (including accidents and homicides). Looking at these statistics, it’s no wonder some people believe alcohol abuse in the United States is out of control.

About 65 percent of Americans consider themselves drinkers, placing them at higher risks for diseases and accidents than nondrinkers. A number of regular drinkers are also alcoholics.

However, there is one good sign: according to David J. Hanson, Ph.D., alcohol consumption in the United States is declining. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that Americans ages 14 and up drank an average of 2.31 gallons of alcohol annually in 2007, compared to 2.75 gallons in 1980.

If you break down alcohol consumption statistics by race and ethnicity, the heaviest drinkers in the United States are American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Statistically, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders drink the least. Among all groups, men are more likely to drink than women, and men are more likely to drink in large quantities.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has a chart addressing a number of questions regarding alcohol use: How many American adults aged 18 or older drank alcohol in the past year? When they did imbibe, how much did they drink?

According to the chart, almost 60 percent of women and more than 70 percent of men had a drink over the past year. Of those, more than 20 percent of women and more than 40 percent of men had more than three drinks per day. That drinking behavior would be considered alcoholic on many assessment tests.

On the same chart, almost 30 percent of women and men claimed to have two drinks per day. Depending on how much alcohol was in each of those drinks, that could be considered an alcohol addiction problem. When you add both sections together and apply common assessments, about half of American women would be considered alcoholic and more than 70 percent of men would be borderline or alcoholic.

An NIAAA study breaks down the statistics further. It focuses on how often women and men drink, providing a better idea of drinking rates and how often people drink heavily or binge drink.

For instance, almost 2.5 percent of women and more than 5.5 percent of men claim to drink daily. Almost 2.5 percent of women and almost 5 percent of men claim to drink nearly every day. Almost 25 percent of all American women will have a drink this week, whereas more than 40 percent of men will do the same. Less than 40 percent of women and less than 30 percent of men claimed to have abstained from alcohol in the past year.

Another issue is determining how much alcohol actually is in what someone refers to generally as a “drink.” By the NIAAA criteria, a standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer with a 5 percent alcohol content
  • 5 ounces of wine with a 12 percent alcohol content
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with a 40 percent alcohol content

Considering that just one stiff mixed drink with hard liquor could contain up to three standard “drinks” (if it totaled 4.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol), it’s no wonder the United States has so many people who consider themselves to be drinking more than two or three drinks per day.

The NIAAA recommends that men have no more than 14 drinks (by their standard) per week, and women should have no more than seven drinks per week. The aforementioned statistics show that often isn’t the case in the United States.

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