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
Alcohol 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 ane Native Americans.2 Both current drinking and heavy drinking are most prevalent among Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.3
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
Differences in drinking patterns also varies by place of birth. For example, Asians and Pacific Islanders born in the United States have lower alcohol abstention rates than those born elsewhere.7
Differences in alcohol consumption are also found among Native Americans. Those living on reservations drink less frequently than those living off–reservation. 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 adolescents have the highest annual prevalence of heavy drinking, followed by Whites.9
Among all age and ethnic groups, men are more likely to drink than women. They also tend to drink large quantities in a single sitting.10 This is a pattern found throughout the world.11
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
Similarly, the more educated people are in the US, the more likely they are to drink.15
Those older than 65 consume less alcohol than younger persons.16
Surveys show a drop in alcohol consumption by young persons over a period of decades. For example, the proportion people age 12 through 17 who have consumed 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
The proportion of high school seniors who have drunk alcohol within prior year is down.19
The proportion of high school seniors who have had alcohol within previous 30 days is down.20
The proportion of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down.21
The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down.22
The proportion 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
The ten countries with the highest per capita drinking are listed below.
Per capita alcohol consumption in the US continues to drop. It ranks 22 on the list.28
The US has a low low international ranking on drinking. Thus, it’s not surprising that abstention is much more common in the US than in any other Western country.29
Temperance Sentiment in US
Drinking attitudes and behaviors in the US reflect its strong temperance past. National Prohibition of alcohol existed for nearly 14 years. However, 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 which the sale of alcohol is prohibited. In fact, nearly one in five US adults today favors prohibition!30
Resources: Alcoholic Beverage Consumption
National Prohibition of Alcohol in the US
Prohibition. The Noble Experiment
Repeal of National Prohibition
Abstaining from Alcoho. Abstainers, Teetotalers, or Non-Drinkers
1. Haughwout, S., et al. Apparent Per Capita Alcohol Consumption. Washington: NIAAA, 2017.
2. Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. Alcohol Consumption. OECD Health Data. Paris: The Directorate, 2019.
3. NIAAA. Alcohol Alert: Alcohol and Minorities. 2012.
4. Dawson, D. Beyond Black, White and Hispanic. J Sub Abuse, 1998, 10, 321–339.
5. Galvan, F. and Caetano, R. Alcohol use. NIAAA, Dec. 2013.
7. Makimoto, K. Drinking patterns. Alco Health & Res World, 1998, 22, 270–275.
8. May, P., and Gossage, J. The epidemiology of alcohol consumption. Drug Alco Depend, 2001, 63, S100.
9. NIAAA. Alcohol Alert: Alcohol and Minorities No. 55 January 2002.
1. Heath, D. (Ed.) Handbook of Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.
12. Galvan, F. and Caetano, R. (2013).
13. Directorate for Employment. (2019).
14. Holder, H. Alcohol and the Community. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U Press, 1998.
15. Wright, J. W. (Ed.) The New York Times 2000 Almanac. New York: Penguin, 2000, p. 398.
16. NIAAA. Alcohol Alert. No. 40 April 1998.
17. SAMHSA. Results from the 2009 National Survey. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, 2010.
18. 2020 Data from In-School Surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students, 2021, 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, Nov 8, 2014.
25. Wechsler, H. College alcohol use. J Am Coll Health, 1999, 47, 247-252.
26. Wechsler, H. et al. Underage college students’ drinking behavior. J Am Coll Health, 2012, 50(5), 223-236.
27. NCES, personal com, 2019
28. Directorate … (2019).
29. ICAP. Who are the Abstainers? Washington: ICAP, June 2000, pp. 8-9.
30. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
Filed Under: Economics