Alcoholic Beverage Consumption in the U.S.: Patterns, Trends

 What is then status of alcoholic beverage consumption? In the US it has declined over time. For example, the per capita drinking of alcohol by those in the US age 14 and older has been declining. In fact, it dropped greatly over a recent 33 year period.

Race and Ethnicity

Alcoholic beverage consumption also varies by race and ethnicity. There are four major such minorities in the US. That is, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Also there are Native Americans.2 Both current drinking  and heavy drinking are most prevalent among Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.

One observer4 wrote that differences “in drinking patterns is also found among different nationalities within specific ethnic groups.”5 Blacks whose ancestry is in the  Caribbean consume less alcohol compared with Blacks in general. Hispanic Americans of Central American, South American, or Caribbean ancestry consume less alcohol than Hispanics in general. That is, Hispanics of Mexican or Mexican American ancestries. Among Asians, Japanese Americans consume more alcohol than Asian Americans of other national origins.6

Alcoholic beverage consumption also varies by place of birth. For example, Asians and Pacific Islanders born in the US have lower alcohol abstention rates than those born elsewhere.7

Different alcoholic beverage consumption patterns are also found among Native Americans. Those living on reservations drink less frequently than those living elsewhere. But reservation dwellers may drink five or more drinks per day more often. And they may drink more alcohol per occasion when they do drink.8

African Americans show the lowest prevalence of lifetime, annual, monthly, daily, and heavy drinking. They also have the lowest frequency of being drunk. Hispanic teens have the highest annual rate of heavy drinking, followed by Whites.9


Among all age and ethnic groups, men are more likely to drink than women. This is a very consistent alcoholic beverage consumption pattern. They also tend to drink large quantities in a single sitting.10 This is a pattern found throughout the world.11

Proportion Abstainers in Percent12
WhiteAfrican AmericanHispanic

Status and Role

Married couples with adult children spend about 30% more than the household average for alcohol. The same is true for couples with no children. Sixty-one percent of all money spent on alcohol was for that consumed at home.13

Abstention in the US is inversely linked with social status. The lower the social class, the higher the abstention.14

Proportion of Abstainers by Class and Gender

Similarly, the more educated people are in the US, the more likely they are to drink.15

Proportion of U.S. Pop by Education who drank alcohol within a previous month


Those older than 65 consume less alcohol than younger persons.16

Surveys show a drop in drinking by young persons over a period of decades. For example, the proportion people age 12 through 17 who have had any alcohol during the previous month has dropped greatly. That’s according to the government’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health.17

The proportion of high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is also dropping.18

Chart: alcoholic beverage consumption of high school seniors
Figure 1

The proportion of high school seniors who have drunk alcohol within prior year is down.19

Chart: high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous year
Figure 2

The percent of high school seniors who have had alcohol within previous 30 days is down.20

Chart: High school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days
Figure 3

The percent of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down.21

Chart: recent daily alcoholic beverage consumption of high school seniors
Figure 4

The percent of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down.22

Chart: high school seniors alcoholic beverage consumption of 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks
Figure 5

College Students

The percent of college freshmen who drink alcohol continues to drop. It’s now at an historic low.23

About half (49%) of US college students don’t drink on a regular basis. And 31% have five or fewer drinks per week. Only 12% had ten or more drinks per week.24 The average number of drinks by college students is 1.5 per week. That’s according to the Harvard School of Public Health College’s study of 17,592 students at 140 colleges.25 The ongoing Harvard Studies have shown an increase in the proportion of college student abstainers. They also show an decrease in the average number of drinks had by those who do drink.26

About two of every three (65.9%) US undergrads is age 21 or older.  And seven of every ten (70.5%) US college students (undergrad and grad) are age 21 or older. That’s according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.27

International Comparisons

The ten countries with the highest per capita drinking are listed below.

Highest Per Capita Consumption
6Czech Republic

Per capita drinking in the US continues to drop. It ranks 22 on the list.28

The US has a low low ranking among nations on drinking. Thus, it’s not surprising that abstention is much more common in the US than in any other Western country.29

Proportion of Abstainers by Western Country

Temperance Sentiment in US

Drinking attitudes and actions in the US reflect its strong temperance past. National Prohibition of alcohol existed for nearly 14 years. Even after Repeal, a large number of states continued their own state prohibition. Many others permitted “local option” permitting prohibition. There are still hundreds of “dry” counties and dry municipalities. In fact, nearly one in five US adults today favors prohibition!30

Alcoholic Beverage Consumption


1. Haughwout, S., et al. Apparent Per Capita Alcohol Consumption.

2. OECD Health Data

3. Alcohol Alert: Alcohol and Minorities. NIAAA.

4. Dawson, D. Beyond Black, White and Hispanic. J Sub Abuse, 10, 321–339.

5. Galvan, F. and Caetano, R. Alcohol use. Alco Res Health, 27(1).

6. Ibid.

7. Makimoto, K. Drinking patterns. Alco Health & Res World, 22, 270–275.

8. May, P., and Gossage, J. The epidemiology of alcohol consumption. Drug Alco Depend, 63, S100.

9. NIAAA. Alcohol Alert: Alcohol and Minorities No. 55.

10. Ibid.

11. Heath, D. (Ed.) Handbook of Alcohol and Culture.

12. Galvan, F. and Caetano, R.

13. Directorate for Employment.

14. Holder, H.  Alcohol and the Community.

15. Wright, J. (Ed.) The New York Times Almanac, p. 398.

16. NIAAA. Alcohol Alert. No. 40.

17. SAMHSA. Results from the National Survey.

18. 2020 Data from In-School Surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students, Table 1.

19. _____, Table 2.

0. _____, Table 3.

21. _____, Table 4.

22. _____, Table 4.

23.Weise, E. Poll: young non-drinkers up in down economy. USA Today, Feb 7, 2011.

24. Grossman, J. Special Campus Dole Poll. Dole Nutrition News.

25. Wechsler, H. College alcohol useJ Am Coll Health, 47, 247-252.

26. Wechsler, H. et al. Underage college students’ drinking behavior. J Am Coll Health, 50(5), 223-236.

27. NCES, personal com, 2019

28. OECD Health Data. Ibid.

29. Who are the Abstainers? Pp. 8-9.

30. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse.

    • You now know that alcoholic beverage consumption has been dropping. And it has for a third of a century.

Filed Under: Economics