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12.29.10

Who Drinks the Most Alcohol?

How tipsy you'll be when you toast the new year could depend on your sex, education level, and where you live. Anneli Rufus on 15 stats that predict your propensity to imbibe.

1. Men drink 11.1 percent more than women.

In a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, 57.6 percent of males aged 12 and older and 46.5 percent of females aged 12 and older reported having consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. (Other studies consistently show adult men out-drinking adult women.) The gender gap is slimmer among underage drinkers: 15.1 percent of males aged 12 to 17, compared to 14.3 percent of females aged 12 to 17. Rachael Brownell, the author of Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore, warns that surveys based on self-reported drinking rates are suspect "and highly subjective, because people with massive drinking problems don't think they have drinking problems."

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2010): Volume 1, Summary of National Findings. Prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies


2. New Hampshire residents consume 89 percent more beer than New Yorkers do.

New Hampshire is the country's sudsiest state, chugging 31.6 gallons per capita per year based on total population, according to the Beer Institute, a national trade association representing U.S. beer producers and importers. At a comparatively modest 16.7 gallons, New York still tops Utah, which drinks the least beer at 12.2 gallons. "New Hampshire is not as sophisticated a market for wine and spirits as many other states," says H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of San Francisco's historic Elixir Saloon. [http://www.elixirsf.com/] "It's also among a handful of 'control states,' whose tough liquor laws make it more difficult for spirits companies to do business there."

Brewers Almanac 2010, compiled by The Beer Institute


3. Ugandans drink 97,250 percent more alcohol than Pakistanis.

According to a World Health Organization comparison of per capita consumption in liters of pure alcohol, Ugandans—at 19.47 liters per year—out-drink all other nations. Pakistan's 0.02 liters is still more than Mauritania's 0.01, while Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Bangladesh stand at zero. "There's a huge problem with drinking in Uganda and most African countries," says University of North Dakota neuroscience professor Sharon Wilsnack, who studies alcohol-related behavior. "The sad thing is that they have so many other problems that drinking doesn't get much attention, yet they're all connected. If you're drunk all the time, you can't get job training and climb out of poverty."

World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004


 

4. The rich out-drink the poor by 27.4 percent.

The 40 Drunkest Cities"Those who can afford alcohol often look upon it as a luxury good and thus buy more of it," Ehrmann says. This may be why research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control shows that 45.2 percent of adults from households whose incomes are below the poverty line report having consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the last 30 days, compared to 72.6 percent of adults whose household incomes are at least four times the poverty level.

Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2005-2007, Vital and Health Statistics Series 10, number 245, issued in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics


 

5. Almost twice as much wine is consumed in Washington, D.C. as in California.

Comparing numbers of gallons of wine consumed per capita per year, the Beer Institute clocked the nation's capital at 6.6, and California at only 3.4. "D.C. is much smaller than California," Ehrmann explains, "and the demographic makeups of the two are quite different." Outside Los Angeles, San Francisco, and its famous Wine Country, California is a huge state whose diverse tastes range from Four Loko to Pernod.

Brewers Almanac 2010, compiled by The Beer Institute


 

6. Caucasians drink 13.9 percent more than African Americans.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, 56.7 percent of whites describe themselves as "current drinkers," compared to 42.8 percent of African Americans, 41.7 percent of Hispanics, 37.6 percent of Asians, and 47.6 percent of multiracial people. (Other studies consistently show Caucasians consuming more alcohol than other ethnic groups.) The biggest binge-drinkers, however, are Hispanics, at 25 percent, closely followed by 24.8 percent of Caucasians, 24.1 percent of multiracials, 19.8 percent of African Americans, and 11.1 percent of Asians.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2010): Volume 1, Summary of National Findings. Prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies


 

7. College graduates are nearly twice as likely to drink as are people who didn't finish high school.

Rates of alcohol use increase with levels of education, as 68.4 percent of college graduates and 35 percent of adults who didn't finish high school describe themselves as "current drinkers." Other studies consistently show higher drinking rates among the college-educated, for whom "drinking good wine and cocktails is a social thing," Ehrmann says, "and it's part of the business meetings and social networking that their careers often depend on." Brownell adds that many people learn to drink at college, where campus life "definitely promotes a culture of 'drink and be wild.'"

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2010): Volume 1, Summary of National Findings. Prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies


 

8. People employed in the arts and in the leisure and hospitality industries are nearly three times as likely to be "problem drinkers" as those employed in education, social services, and health care.

George Washington University Medical Center researchers compared the alcoholism rates of various professions: Arts/leisure/hospitality tops the chart at 15 percent, followed by construction and mining at 14.7, retail at 9.7, finance and real estate tied at 9.2, and transportation at 8.2. At only 7.2 percent, professional hunters and fishermen are less than half as likely as artists to be alcoholics. For education/health/social services, it's 5.4 percent. Public administrators trail the pack at 5.3 percent.

Lynora Williams et al. (2008): Workplace screening and brief intervention: what employers can and should do about excessive alcohol use. A report for Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, a project of the George Washington University Medical Center


 

9. Gay people drink 16 percent more than straight people.

According to the study that yielded this stat, 75 percent of gays and lesbians were described as "current drinkers," as compared to 68 percent of bisexuals and 59 percent of heterosexuals. And lesbians out-drink gay men: "Women who have sex with women reported significantly higher rates of alcohol consumption," the researchers write. This finding is confirmed by other studies, such as one coauthored by Sharon Wilsnack. "Historically, so much gay drinking went on in gay bars because there was virtually nowhere else where gays could socialize," Wilsnack says. "Although that has changed, they still face the chronic stress of being a marginalized group, and one thing alcohol's pretty good at, at least temporarily, is reducing stress."

Laurie Drabble, et al. (2005): Reports of alcohol use and alcohol-related problems for bisexual and homosexual respondents: Results of the Year 2000 National Alcohol Survey. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 66 (1), 111-120


 

10. American college students participating in study-abroad programs drink twice as much as they did before going abroad.

"Participants more than doubled their drinking during study-abroad trips," according to the University of Washington psychologists behind this statistic. According to their research, where students study abroad affects how much more they'll swig. Those studying in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand increase their alcohol consumption to a greater extent than those studying elsewhere, as do students under age 21.

E.R. Pedersen, et al. (2010): When in Rome: factors associated with changes in drinking behavior among American college students studying abroad. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 24 (3), 535-40


 

11. The women of Denmark, Belarus, and Luxembourg drink far more than the women of Egypt, Cambodia, and Fiji.

According to the World Health Organization, 100 percent of Egyptian women abstain from alcohol, and women from Cambodia and Fiji are nearly as strict in their abstention. This is compared to only 4 percent of their Danish, Belarussian, and Luxembourgish sisters. Men worldwide drink more than women, but the gender gap is narrowing and rates vary widely from country to country. "Women in Iceland drink more than men in Israel," Wilsnack says, "but men in Israel drink more than women in Israel and men in Iceland drink more than women in Iceland." In countries with traditionally sky-high female abstinence rates, "the best strategy is not to keep women suppressed by saying, 'You can't drink,' but rather to tell them, 'If you choose to drink, you can do it in a healthier way.'"

World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004


 

12. The number of American women who binge-drink during the first trimester of their pregnancies has nearly doubled in recent years.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, "binge drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy was reported by 11.9 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44" in 2008 and 2009. In 2006 and 2007, the rate was only 6.6 percent.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2010): Volume 1, Summary of National Findings. Prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies


 

13. Members of cohabiting couples are 11.2 percent more likely than married people to have had five or more drinks in a single day at least once in the past year.

According to a Centers for Disease Control study, this boils down to 28.9 percent of cohabiters and 17.7 percent of marrieds. Brownell suspects that cohabiters out-drink wedded couples because "cohabiting households are less settled and more in flux. They're facing more economic insecurities and social anxieties.”

Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2005-2007, Vital and Health Statistics Series 10, number 245, issued in 2010 by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics


 

14. College students who are both athletes and members of fraternities or sororities drink over three times as much as college students who are neither athletes nor part of the Greek system.

A California State University study found that non-Greek, nonathletic students "typically consume less than two drinks when at a bar or party," while fraternity and sorority members typically consume an average of three drinks at bars and parties. Greek-affiliated athletes out-guzzle them all, knocking back an average of 6.5 drinks per session. "I was in the Greek system," Brownell says. "There was constant pressure to drink, and the people with the highest status in that system were the athletes. They were the ones manning the kegs."

Robert LaChausse et al. (2002): Our campus culture: Findings from the 2002 CSUSB Campus Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use Social Norms


 

15. Malt-liquor drinkers drink 45 percent more than hard-liquor drinkers.

Among drinkers whose beverage of choice is malt liquor, 74 percent drink daily or nearly daily, compared to 48 percent of drinkers who prefer ordinary beer and 29 percent of drinkers who prefer hard liquor. According to the authors of this study, malt-liquor drinkers consume over three times as much ethanol within a typical three-month period as ordinary-beer drinkers and almost a full ounce more ethanol than hard-liquor drinkers. Who drinks what? "The odds of preferring hard liquor as compared with malt liquor were significantly increased for persons with white-collar occupations and those who drank in public settings and were reduced for persons who drank outdoors."

Ricky Blumenthal et al. (2005): Characteristics of malt liquor beer drinkers in a low-income racial minority community sample. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 29 (3), 402-409

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and the Nautilus Award-winning Stuck: Why We Don't (or Won't) Move On, and the coauthor of still more, including Weird Europe and The Scavengers' Manifesto. Her books have been translated into numerous languages, including Chinese and Latvian. In 2006, she won a Society of Professional Journalists award for criticism.