Most Americans Abstainers?

In the view of many around the world, most people in the United States are abstainers. Fully half of American adults drink less than once a month, which is abstaining according to some studies and societies.

For example, researchers in Denmark defined abstainers as those who “had no more than a single drink per week” and the Chilean Ministry of Public Health identifies an abstainer as one who drinks “no more than five times a year, in small quantities, and without drunkenness.” 1

Fortunately, Americans rarely share the mistrust of abstainers found in many societies. In France, for example, an abstainer is generally scored because “he or she is presumed to be dour, a kill-joy, and even likely to be critical of any enjoyment that others may have.” In Chile, “an abstainer is generally distrusted; the assumption is that the only reason one might not drink is in order to be able to take advantage of others when they have had too much to drink.” 2

What constitutes moderate drinking in some societies would be considered by many anti-alcohol writers and investigators in the U.S. to be “binge” drinking. A recent Swedish study, for example, defines a binge as the consumption of half a bottle of spirits or two bottles of wine on the same occasion. Similarly, a study in Italy found that consuming an average of eight drinks a day was considered normal drinking in that country -- clearly not bingeing. In the United kingdom, bingeing is commonly defined as consuming 11 or more drinks on an occasion. But in the United States, some have defined bingeing as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion (an "occasion" can refer to an entire day). And now some have even expanded the definition to include consuming four or more drinks on an occasion by a woman. 3

All of this in an effort to inflate the number of supposed “binge drinkers.” Doing so is an effective technique for creating alarm and promoting organizational temperance agendas. Unfortunately, it impedes scientific knowledge and progress in reducing alcohol problems.


  • 1. Heath, D.B. Drinking Occassions: Comparative Perspectives on Alcohol and Culture. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel, 2000, p. 84.
  • 2. Heath, D.B. Drinking Occassions: Comparative Perspectives on Alcohol and Culture. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel. 2000, p. 100.
  • 3. See Binge Drinking.