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Friday, September 26, 2014

The Dark Side of Booze

The Washington Post's Wonkblog has a great piece up today about American alcohol consumption patterns.  In particular, they include this graph, which illustrates two things very clearly:

First, almost all Americans have a healthy relationship to alcohol.  Second, a minority have a really unhealthy relationship.

Seventy percent of the population barely even drink.  Even looking at the 81-90th percentile, that group consumes just a bit more than two drinks a day.  (For men, two drinks a day is actually--if inconclusively--associated with positive health outcomes.)  But then we get to that last decile.  People in that group consume over 10 drinks a day--or three times as much as the bottom 90% combined.

This is the dark side of alcohol, and one those of us who make or write about booze should consider seriously.  The great majority of the alcohol consumed in the US--and I think this trend is typical worldwide--is being consumed by just a few people, probably all of them alcoholics by any definition.  The uncomfortable reality, as Philip J. Cook (Paying the Tab) describes in the article, is this:
"One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry," he writes writes. "If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent."
(It's worth acknowledging that consumption patterns by those drinking Cantillon and Château Latour are probably different than drinkers of Popov vodka.  Because it is a relative luxury, I would guess that good beer is the choice of more people in the 60th-90th percentiles than the chart above reflects.  But as it gets more popular, it will naturally come to resemble national trends.) 

Just something to remind ourselves every now and again.


  1. I only had one drink last night. It was a full bottle of wine, but that only counts as 1 right?