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More Americans View Moderate Drinking as Unhealthy

More Americans View Moderate Drinking as Unhealthy

by Mohamed Younis and Mary Claire Evans

Story Highlights

  • 39% say drinking in moderation is bad for one’s health, up 11 points since 2018
  • Shift largely reflects changes among adults aged 18-34
  • Alcohol viewed as less harmful than tobacco, more harmful than marijuana

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A record-high 39% of Americans now say that consuming one to two drinks a day is bad for one’s health, marking an 11-percentage-point increase since 2018. At the same time, half of U.S. adults believe that drinking in moderation makes no difference, while 10% say it is good for one’s health. The last two figures are down five and six points, respectively, compared with five years ago.


Gallup has asked this question nine times since 2001, including in its most recent Consumption Habits Survey, conducted July 3-27. While the five-year time span since the prior reading is too long to attribute the change to any specific event, it comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its dietary guidelines for alcohol intake, and the World Health Organization published research showing that no level of alcohol is safe for one’s health. Previous medical research had presented mixed guidance on whether moderate drinking might improve certain health outcomes. The WHO recommendation takes a strong position against the idea that moderate drinking can be beneficial.

Biggest Change in Perceptions of Harm Is Among Younger Americans

The increased belief that moderate alcohol consumption is detrimental is owed largely to young adults aged 18-34, among whom it has risen 18 points since 2018. That compares with a 13-point increase among middle-aged adults and virtually no change among those 55 and older.


This shift coincides with more recent consumer drinking trends, including a growing "mocktail" industry as nonalcoholic alternative party elixirs become more popular among younger Americans.

Other notable differences between groups include by gender, with women (41%) more likely than men (35%) to view drinking in moderation as harmful to one’s health.

Regional disparities are also apparent. Americans living in the Western (44%) and Midwestern (44%) regions of the U.S. are more likely than those in the East (34%) or South (35%) to view drinking in moderation as harmful.

Finally, those who do not identify with a religion (47%) are more likely than those identifying as Christian (35%) to view moderate drinking in this way.

Alcohol Not Perceived to Be as Harmful as Tobacco

When compared with other recreational and medicinal substances of consumption, U.S. adults perceive alcohol as less harmful than a variety of tobacco and nicotine-based products. While three in four say cigarettes are “very harmful” to one’s health, fewer view chewing tobacco or cigars in this way, and an even lower 30% say this about alcohol.


As public awareness of the harms of vaping has increased, over half of Americans say using e-cigarettes or vaping is very harmful to one’s health.

Marijuana garnered the lowest level of health concern in comparison to other substances, but separate Gallup research has shown that three in four U.S. adults are very or somewhat concerned about the effects marijuana has on young adults and teens who use it regularly.

Bottom Line

More Americans than at any time in the past two decades now say drinking alcohol in moderation is bad for one’s health, and three in 10 view alcohol consumption in general as “very harmful.” Perceptions about the harm of moderate drinking have experienced the most growth among younger Americans. These changes align with recent global and U.S. research that challenges previous findings suggesting there are health benefits from moderate drinking.

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