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The United States of Alcoholism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2014

Drinking Rate USA

30% of Americans don’t drink any alcohol during a typical week. On the other end of the scale, ten percent of Americans consume more than 10 drinks every single day. More from Wonkblog.

I double-checked these figures with Cook, just to make sure I wasn’t reading them wrong. “I agree that it’s hard to imagine consuming 10 drinks a day,” he told me. But, “there are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey.”

As Cook notes in his book, the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year. On the other hand, people in the bottom three deciles don’t drink at all, and even the median consumption among those who do drink is just three beverages per week.

This is shocking to me. I wonder what the distribution is within the top 10%…there must be people in the top 1% who drink, what, 30 drinks per day? Is that even possible day after day without very serious consequences? (via mr)

Update: Over at Forbes, Trevor Butterworth casts doubt on the conclusions in the Wonkblog article.

The source for this figure is “Paying the Tab,” by Phillip J. Cook, which was published in 2007. If we look at the section where he arrives at this calculation, and go to the footnote, we find that he used data from 2001-2002 from NESARC, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which had a representative sample of 43,093 adults over the age of 18. But following this footnote, we find that Cook corrected these data for under-reporting by multiplying the number of drinks each respondent claimed they had drunk by 1.97 in order to comport with the previous year’s sales data for alcohol in the US. Why? It turns out that alcohol sales in the US in 2000 were double what NESARC’s respondents — a nationally representative sample, remember — claimed to have drunk.

Additionally, the statement I made above — “ten percent of Americans consume more than 10 drinks every single day” — is not true, even if the data is correct. Instead, it is accurate to say that top 10% consumes an average of 10 drinks daily…some individuals may drink 4/day and some 18/day. Looks like it’s time for a reread of How to Lie with Statistics and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. (via @harryh & @gfilpus)