A glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work is socially acceptable in many countries around the world, including the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. However, when that glass becomes a bottle, and that beer becomes a six-pack, it poses potential health risks. While a recent Gallup survey* of each of these countries doesn't tell us the quantity of alcohol consumed, it presents a clear picture of how many Americans, Britons, and Canadians are imbibing, and how often.
Alcohol is consumed, at least occasionally, by 73% of American adults, 83% of Canadian adults, and 87% of British adults. Adults in Great Britain are most likely to report regular alcohol consumption, with 42% reporting that they drink alcoholic beverages a few times a week or more, versus about a quarter of Canadians (24%) and Americans (23%).
U.S. adults are most likely to be teetotalers -- 27% say they never consume alcoholic beverages, compared with significantly lower percentages in Canada (16%) and Great Britain (13%).
Gender differences appear in the responses to this question, and the pattern is similar across all three countries. Across the board, men are more likely than women to be frequent drinkers (consuming alcohol a few times a week or more).
Indeed, American men are twice as likely as American women to be frequent drinkers (31% vs. 17%). In Canada, the gap is 9 percentage points (31% of men, compared with 22% of women), and in Great Britain, the gap is 15 percentage points (50% of men, compared with 35% of women). Women in each country are more likely to say they are teetotalers, although the gender gap appears somewhat larger in the United States.
According to a study on gender and alcohol research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men tend to drink more than women do in nearly every country in which alcohol consumption is measured. The magnitude of the difference between male and female drinking does vary from country to country, which suggests that the difference is influenced by sociocultural factors.
Although alcohol use is socially acceptable, misuse can be harmful. The Office of Statistics in Great Britain reports that the number of people who drink more than the recommended limit is on the rise in that country, and Britain's young people are reportedly the heaviest drinkers (in terms of amount consumed) in Europe. Thousands die each year from alcohol-related problems in the United States and Canada, and alcohol abuse costs their economies billions of dollars. But these countries are not alone in their problems -- the World Health Organization attributes 1.8 million deaths worldwide directly to alcohol.
*Results for the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 3-5, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Results in Canada are based telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 5-11, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.
Results in Great Britain are based telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 2-21, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.
Results for the Canada and Great Britain surveys may not equal 100% due to rounding error.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.