Majority in U.S. Drink Alcohol, Averaging Four Drinks a Week

Beer edges out wine by 39% to 35% as drinkers’ beverage of choice

Source: Gallup

by Lydia Saad

Americans’ drinking habits held steady in the past year, with 66% saying they consume alcohol and drinkers consuming just over four alcoholic drinks per week, on average. Beer continues to be Americans’ preferred drink, although wine remains a close second, with liquor favored by 22%.

The findings are from Gallup’s annual Consumption Habits poll, conducted July 9-12. Although 66% of Americans say they “have occasion to drink alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine, or beer,” a third of these say they had no drinks in the seven days prior to the survey. This leaves roughly four in 10 Americans (44%) who appear to be regular drinkers, consuming at least one alcoholic beverage in the past week.

While only 12% of drinkers report consuming eight or more drinks in the past week — averaging more than one per day — Gallup finds 22% of drinkers saying they sometimes drink too much. This is up from 17% last year, but similar to the percentages in most other years over the past decade. Prior to 2001, the proportion tended to be higher.

Drinking Rates Higher Among Men Than Women, Whites Than Nonwhites

Drinking habits vary considerably by gender, race, and age. While roughly equal proportions of men and women say they ever have occasion to drink, men tend to drink more. Specifically, men who drink report consuming 6.2 drinks, on average, in the past week, compared with the 2.2 drinks consumed by women. Also, nearly three in 10 male drinkers admit they sometimes consume more alcohol than they think they should, versus 14% of female drinkers.

Not only are whites more likely to drink than nonwhites, but white drinkers report consuming more alcohol than nonwhites — 4.5 drinks on average in the past week among whites, compared with 3.3 among nonwhites.

Younger adults drink more than older adults and, as a result, men aged 18 to 49 are the heaviest drinkers of any age/gender group. The sharpest differences are seen in self-reported overdrinking, with 36% of younger men admitting they sometimes drink too much, compared with 18% of older men, 20% of younger women, and 8% of older women.

Men Still Prefer Beer; Women Still Prefer Wine

The slight majority of male drinkers, 55%, say they most often drink beer, followed by liquor and wine at 21% and 20%, respectively. Female drinkers have an equally strong preference for wine, with 52% saying they most often drink wine and just over 20% favoring either liquor or beer.

Beer is the beverage of choice among both 18- to 34-year-olds and those aged 35 to 54, while adults aged 55 and older lean more toward wine.

Additionally, drinkers in the Midwest show the greatest preference for beer, while those in the East are the most likely to drink wine, as Gallup has found in prior years.

Alcoholic Beverage Consumed Most Often by U.S. Adult Drinkers, by Gender, Age, and Region, July 2012

Bottom Line

Drinking is commonplace in the U.S., with two-thirds of Americans saying they ever drink alcohol, and just over 40% reporting that they had at least one drink in the past week. Drinkers still show a slight preference for beer, but wine is not far behind.

With drinking comes overdrinking, and despite possible reluctance by some respondents to admit problems, one in five drinkers — representing 14% of all U.S. adults — say they sometimes drink too much. The rates are particularly high among men and younger adults, making younger men the most at risk for this behavior.

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