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J Stud Alcohol. 1999 Jan;60(1):78-89.

Who drinks most of the alcohol in the US? The policy implications.

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Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Berkeley, California 94709-2176, USA.



The concentration of alcohol consumption in the U.S. among the heaviest drinkers is analyzed with data from two recent probability samples of the adult population.


Pooled data from four national telephone surveys (N = 7,049; 4,784 drinkers) with uniform methodology are used for the primary analysis, and data from an in-person national household survey (N = 2,058; 1,308 drinkers) are used for confirmatory analysis. Each survey systematically measured self-reported alcohol consumption during the prior year using a "graduated frequencies" approach designed to capture drinking at a series of amount-per-day levels.


The two studies produced very similar estimates: the top 2.5% of drinkers by volume account for 27% and 25% of the nation's total self-reported alcohol consumption in the telephone and in-person surveys, respectively; the top 5% account for 42% and 39%; and the top 20% of drinkers account for 89% and 87% in each survey, respectively. Men were overrepresented at the highest volumes, contributing about 76% of the country's total reported consumption. Similarly, young adults aged 18 to 29 are disproportionately represented in the heaviest drinking levels; constituting 27% of the population, they account for about 45% of overall adult drinking.


The bulk of the alcohol reported drunk in the U.S. is consumed by a relatively small population of very heavy drinkers. Prevention policies implied by this concentration include strengthening of social norms discouraging heavy consumption, restricting marketing practices that target heavy drinkers, and implementing measures to reduce consumption by the heaviest drinkers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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