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One in Five Americans Say Moderate Drinking Is Healthy

One in Five Americans Say Moderate Drinking Is Healthy

by Rebecca Riffkin

Story Highlights

  • Majority say moderate drinking makes no difference to health
  • 28% say one or two drinks a day is bad for health
  • Americans who drink are more likely to say it is good for health

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Significantly more Americans believe moderate alcohol consumption is bad for one's health (28%) than believe it is good (17%). The percentage of those viewing alcohol as beneficial is the lowest Gallup has found in this 15-year trend. A slight majority of Americans, 52%, believe drinking in moderation has no effect on one's health.

Lower Percentage of Americans Say Moderate Drinking is Good for Health

Gallup defines "moderate drinking" as consuming one or two drinks a day, which lines up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of moderate drinking. These findings are from Gallup's July 8-12 Consumption Habits survey. In the same poll, 64% of Americans said they drink alcohol. This is similar to the national average for the past two decades.

Americans' experiences with alcohol appear to influence their beliefs about the health benefits of moderate drinking. For example, Americans who drink alcohol are more likely to believe it is good for their health (20%) than those who do not drink (12%). Similarly, those who have had a drink in the past day are more likely than those who have had a drink in the past week to believe moderate alcohol intake is good for their health, at 34% and 13%, respectively.

Perceived Health Effects of Drinking by Those who drink and those who don't

Americans who report that drinking has been a "cause of trouble" in their family are more likely to say that drinking is bad for one's health than those who have not had drinking-related problems in their family (37% vs. 24%, respectively). However, similar percentages of both groups say that drinking is good for one's health.

Groups That Are More Likely to Drink Also More Likely to Say It's Healthy

Population groups that are more likely to report they drink, such as men, those with higher incomes and those with more education, are also less likely to say they believe drinking is unhealthy. For instance, while women are twice as likely to believe drinking in moderation is bad for one's health (30%) as to believe it is good (14%), men are only slightly more likely to say drinking is unhealthy (26%) than to say it is healthy (20%).

drinking and health by subgroup

The relationship between Americans' drinking habits and their beliefs about the effects of drinking on health is unknown, however. It could be that those who drink are more inclined to believe it is good for their health out of personal experience, or as a way to rationalize their lifestyle choices. Or those who believe drinking is healthy may actively choose to drink as a way to improve their health.

Bottom Line

While the majority of Americans say that moderate drinking does not have an effect on health, those who drink are more likely to believe drinking is good for you than those who do not. The negative effects of heavy drinking, both over the long term and from periodic binge drinking, are well-documented and can include liver and brain damage. However, the CDC warns that even moderate alcohol intake can lead to a higher risk of cancer, injuries from falls, violence and motor vehicle crashes. The Mayo Clinic, however, says that one glass of red wine a day can be good for your heart, but warns against beginning to drink just for this health benefit. Other studies have found that a daily glass of alcohol can help with digestion and long life and can lower the chance of diabetes, while still others say these results are overblown. This lack of consensus among the medical community may be one reason U.S. adults remain divided on the health implications of moderate drinking.

Historical data on these questions are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8-12, 2015, with a random sample of 1,009 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 664 drinkers, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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