Special Report: Alcohol Consumption in the U.S.

Comparing alcohol consumption to how much we drank during the Civil War is an interesting way to observe how we consume alcohol in the U.S. but that’s how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is looking at it.

The institute says the average American now drinks 60% more hard liquor in a year than we did in the mid-1990s. We’re also drinking more wine. Something like 50% more per person than 1995.

  • The average American drank 2.51 gallons of ethanol (the alcohol in wine), beer and spirits in 2021
  • In 1995 that figure was 2.5 gallons
  • Those figure — by the way — do not cover the water, soda and other ingredients put into drinks

Back to the Civil War and to other times in history:

  • In 1960 at the start of the Civil War, Americans consumed 2.5 gallons of alcohol
  • In 1934 — just after the repeal of Prohibition — we drank just 1 gallon of alcohol a year
  • By the end of World War II that number rose to 2.3 gallons
  • It was 2.8 gallons at the historic, modern era peak in 1980

The Mothers Against Drunk Drivers started in September of 1980 and that pushed consumption of alcohol to the 1995 low. It has slowly come back up and is now close to historic highs.

The rising consumption — says Iowa State University sociologist, Susan Stewart — is being driven by the targeting of women by alcohol industry. “The story is women,” she said. “Wines are marketed to women: the fancy labels with the flowers on them and the pretty colors.”

Women are also becoming problem drinkers — a domain that used to be dominated by men. Men used to outnumber women by 3 to 1 when it came to binge drinking. Today the two sexes are about even.

Stewart also tracks what she calls “a normalization of alcohol in our daily lives.” It encourages both men and women to drink.

“It’s infiltrated our daily activities that didn’t typically involve alcohol, like sporting events, or a 5K: there’s a beer tent at the end,” she added. Stewart said the makers of alcohol are also pushing its use in very creative ways.

  • Wine yoga
  • A beer fridge at work
  • Office happy hours
  • Cocktails at movie theaters
  • Bike-and-brew cycling trips

These events and concepts and others are pushing people to drink more. Marketing on TV brought about cultural cocktails that encouraged people to go to bars and drink high-priced drinks.

David Jernigan is an expert on health law, policy and management at Boston University. He said in the 1990s, alcohol manufacturers ignored a self-imposed, and government pushed television advertising ban and began showing their wares again on the boob tube.

“There was a huge change in spirits marketing beginning around the turn of the century,” Jernigan said. “The spirits companies realized in the late ‘90s that they were getting their clocks cleaned by beer. There was a huge increase in spirits ads on TV.”

It went from about 2,000 ads a year in 2001 to over 63,000 by 2009.

A lot of states in the 1970s dropped the legal drinking age to 18. Since the 26th Amendment allowed people aged 18 to vote, being able to drink seemed logical. A significant uptick in drunk-driving deaths followed and by 1984 Congress set a national legal drinking age at 21.

Other than that, there hasn’t been much government involvement in the industry.

Alcohol taxes have remain flat and inflation has cut that contribution to government. Since those taxes are based on volume, a 2020 study found excise taxes on booze from 1970 to 2018 have fallen by more than 70%.

“The declining effective tax rate makes their products more competitive with all the other liquids,” Jernigan said.

COVID also gave alcohol providers a positive push. Liquor stores — and liquor purchased in stores — were declared an essential business because people addicted to alcohol might have gone into dangerous withdrawal. It was also pushed to keep the casual drinker — like maybe those making policy? — happy.

“It [also] became a heck of a lot easier to get alcohol. We introduced home delivery and carryout cocktails,” Jernigan said. “Now, you have DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber: Anybody can deliver alcohol to your door.”

The whole deliver alcohol to your door has its problems, too. In a test to see how easy it is to get alcohol delivered to a home, Jernigan said, “One of my colleagues, they delivered alcohol to her 10-year-old.”

Here’s the bottom-line and some final statistics from Gallup. It found that 63% of us drink. Since the 1930s that figure — Gallup said — has gone up and down from 55% to 71%.

  • Wealthy and college-educated people are far more likely to drink than those less affluent
  • Those considered churchgoers will drink less than those that are nonreligious
  • White people drink more than Black or Hispanic people
  • Underage drinking, however, has declined significantly in the last few years

The underage statistic is significant according to professor of psychiatry, Andrea King of the University of Chicago.

“Alcohol drinking in adolescents has gone down consistently since the 1980s,” she noted. “We’re getting more binge drinking, but we’re getting a lot more students abstaining.”

Source link: The Hill — https://bit.ly/3P5gFT2

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