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One in Six Americans Admit Drinking Too Much

One in Six Americans Admit Drinking Too Much

More than a third of Americans report drinking has caused family problems

by Wendy W. Simmons

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to a recent Gallup poll, 64% of Americans say they drink alcoholic beverages at least occasionally. Of these, 26% say they sometimes drink more than they should. Thirty-six percent of Americans say they completely abstain from drinking. Gallup has been asking the American public about its drinking habits for more than 60 years. The number of people who say they drink has fluctuated somewhat during that time, ranging from 55% to 71%. Admitted drinking reached its lowest point in the 1950s and its highest point in the 1970s. The first time Gallup asked this question, in 1939, 58% of Americans claimed they were drinkers, while 42% said they did not drink at all.

Certain Groups More Likely to Drink and Drink Too Much

  • Men areslightlymore likely to say they drink than are women (67% vs. 60%).
  • Men are twice as likely as women to say they sometimes drink too much (22% vs. 11%).
  • Younger people are more likely to drink than are older people -- 68% of those between the ages of 18 and 49 say they have occasion to drink, compared with 57% of those over the age of 50.
  • Thirty-five percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 say they sometimes drink more than they should, compared with 18% of those in their 30s and 40s and just 6% of those over the age of 50.
  • People living in urban areas, regions outside of the South, and those with higher levels of education are more likely to drink alcohol on occasion than are rural dwellers, Southerners and those without a college education.

50- to 64-Year-Olds Drinking Less This Year
Although the majority of Americans drink, most drinkers report relatively moderate levels of consumption. Those who say they drank at least one alcoholic beverage in the past week report an average of less than one drink per day (5.6 per week). This weekly average is down slightly this year, however, from an average of 6 per week last year. It appears this decline is driven by those between the ages of 50 and 64. The drinkers in this group report an average of 3.7 drinks per week, down from 5.7 drinks per week last year.

More Than a Third of Americans Report Drinking Has Caused Family Trouble
Thirty-six percent of those surveyed told Gallup that drinking has been a source of problems for their family. This number has been on the rise, particularly in the past couple of years. In 1947, when Gallup first asked this question, only 15% of Americans said drinking had been a problem in their family. As recently as 1994, the rate of self-reported problems was just 27%. However, this number rose to 30% in 1997, and then to 36% in 1999 -- an all-time high -- and it remains at that level in this year's survey.

There are several possible explanations for the increase in self-reported family drinking problems over the years, including a real-world increase in the rate of alcoholism, an attenuated stigma associated with alcohol problems and a greater willingness to talk about such problems, and perhaps a broader understanding of what it means to have a "drinking problem." At least one indication in the poll suggests the increase may reflect a change in attitudes rather than behavior: there has been no significant change in recent years in the percentage of drinkers who say they sometimes drink too much.

Differences in Preferred Drink by Age, Gender and Socioeconomic Status
As Gallup has found in previous surveys on this topic, beer continues to be the alcoholic beverage of choice for a plurality of Americans who drink. Forty-three percent of drinkers say they drink beer most often; wine and liquor follow, with 31% and 22%, respectively. Of those who drink,

  • Men are almost three times as likely as women to name beer as their preferred drink -- 62% vs. 24%.
  • Wine is the preferred drink of 47% of women, compared to only 17% of men.
  • Younger people are more likely to prefer beer, while older people tend to prefer wine -- 50% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they drink beer most often, compared to 27% of those over the age of 50. Forty-six percent of those over the age of 50 say they drink wine most often.
  • Those with postgraduate degrees are most likely to have a strong preference for wine -- it is the drink of choice for 53% of this group. Just 35% of those with a college education prefer wine and 24% of those with no college experience drink wine most frequently.

Survey Methods

Results reported here are based on telephone interviews with -- 1,028 -- national adults, aged 18+, conducted November 13-15, 2000. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Results based on the subsample of -- 692 -- of those who say they drink alcohol on occasion have a margin of sampling error of +/-4 percentage points. 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.

Do you have occasion to use alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine or beer, or are you a total abstainer?

 

 

 

Yes,
drink

No, total abstainer

   

Yes,
drink

No, total abstainer

 

%

%

   

%

%

             

2000 Nov 13-15

64

36

 

1976

71

29

       

1974

68

32

1999 Sep 23-26

64

36

 

1969

64

36

1997 Jun 26-29

61

39

 

1966

65

35

1996 Jun 27-30

58

42

 

1964

63

37

1994 Jun 3-6

65

35

 

1960

62

38

1992

64

35

 

1958

55

45

1990

57

43

 

1957

58

42

1989

56

44

 

1956

60

40

1988

63

37

 

1952

60

40

1987

65

35

 

1951

59

41

1984

64

36

 

1950

60

40

1983

65

35

 

1949

58

42

1982

65

35

 

1947

63

37

1981

70

30

 

1946

67

33

1979

69

31

 

1945

67

33

1978

71

29

 

1939

58

42

1977

71

29

       


When did you last take a drink of any kind of alcoholic beverage?

 

BASED ON -- 692 -- WHO DRINK; ±4 PERCENTAGE POINTS

         
 


24 hours

Over 1 day
to week ago

Over 1
week ago


Don't know

 

%

%

%

%

         

200 Nov 13-15

26

32

42

*

         

1999 Sep 23-26

35

25

39

1

1997 Jun 26-29

33

25

42

*

1996 Jun 27-30

28

26

45

1

1994 Jun 3-6

34

23

42

1

1992

26

24

49

1

1990

29

23

47

1

1989

32

35

32

1

1988

39

25

34

2

1987

38

30

31

1

1984

39

29

31

1



 

 

Approximately how many drinks of any kind of alcoholic beverages did you drink in the past SEVEN days?

 

BASED ON -- 692 -- WHO DRINK; ±4 PERCENTAGE POINTS

 

 

 


0


1-7


8-19


20+

Don't
know

 

%

%

%

%

%

           

2000 Nov 13-15

43

46

8

3

*

           

1999 Sep 23-26

40

47

8

4

*

1997 Jun 26-29

41

45

8

5

1

1996 Jun 27-30

47

42

7

2

2

1994 Jun 3-6

44

42

10

3

1

1992

51

36

10

2

1

1990

50

40

6

3

1

1989

33

47

13

5

2

1988

32

49

10

6

3

1987

29

50

11

6

4



 

 

Do you most often drink liquor, wine, or beer?

 

BASED ON -- 692 -- WHO DRINK; ±4 PERCENTAGE POINTS

 

 

 


Liquor


Wine


Beer

ALL/SAME (vol.)

OTHER (vol.)

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

             

2000 Nov 13-15

22

31

43

3

0

1

             

1999 Sep 23-26

19

34

42

4

*

1

1997 Jun 26-29

18

32

45

4

*

1

1996 Jul 25-28

20

27

46

6

0

1

1994 Jun 3-6

18

29

47

3

1

2

1992 Jan

21

27

47

3

1

1

             


Do you sometimes drink more alcoholic beverages than you think you should?

 

BASED ON -- 692 -- WHO DRINK; ±4 PERCENTAGE POINTS

 

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

 

%

%

%

       

2000 Nov 13-15

26

74

*

       

1999 Sep 23-26

24

76

*

1997 Jun 26-29

22

78

*

1996 Jul 25-28

25

75

*

1994 Jun 3-6

29

71

0

1992

29

71

--

1990

23

76

1

1989

35

65

--

1987

29

71

--

1985

32

68

--

1978

23

77

--



 

 

Have you ever made a really serious effort to stop drinking, or not?

 

BASED ON -- 692 -- WHO DRINK; ±4 PERCENTAGE POINTS

 

 

 


Yes,
made effort


No,
have not

DON'T WANT
TO QUIT
(vol.)


No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

200 Nov 13-15

16

80

3

1

         

1999 Sep 23-26

15

80

4

1



 

 

Has drinking ever been a cause of trouble in your family?

 

 

 

Yes

No

No answer

 

%

%

%

       

2000 Nov 13-15

36

64

*

       

1999 Sep 23-26

36

64

*

1997 Jun 26-29

30

70

*

1996 Jun 27-30

23

77

*

1994 Jun 3-6

27

72

1

1992

24

76

--

1990

23

76

1

1989

19

81

--

1987

24

76

--

1985

21

79

--

1984

18

82

--

1981

22

78

--

1978

22

78

--

1976

17

83

--

1974

12

88

--

1966

12

88

--

1947

15

85

--

       
       

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response

       


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