National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research
Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System
SURVEILLANCE REPORT #113
APPARENT PER CAPITA ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION: NATIONAL, STATE, AND REGIONAL TRENDS, 1977–2017
Megan E. Slater, Ph.D.
Hillel R. Alpert, Sc.D.
901 N. Stuart Street
Arlington, VA 22203
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
1 CSR, Incorporated, operates the Alcohol
Epidemiologic Data System (AEDS) under Contract No. HHSN275201800004C for the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Dr. Michael E.
Hilton (Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research) serves as the NIAAA
Contracting Officer's Representative on the contract.
This surveillance report on 1977–2017 apparent per capita alcohol consumption in the United States is the 33rd in a series of consumption reports produced annually by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Findings are based on alcoholic beverage sales data collected by the Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System (AEDS) from the States or from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association and from various reports produced by beverage industry sources. Population data from the U.S. Census Bureau are used as denominators to calculate per capita rates.
The following are highlights from the current report, which updates consumption trends through 2017:
Per capita consumption of ethanol from all alcoholic beverages combined in 2017 was 2.34 gallons, representing a 0.4 percent decrease from 2.35 gallons in 2016.
Between 2016 and 2017, changes in overall per capita ethanol consumption included increases in 14 States, decreases in 28 States and the District of Columbia, and no changes in 8 States.
Analysis of overall per capita alcohol consumption by U.S. Census region between 2016 and 2017 indicated an increase of 0.4 percent in the Midwest. The analysis also showed decreases of 0.4 percent in the Northeast, 0.9 percent in the South, and 1.2 percent in the West.
Healthy People 2020 set the national objective for per capita annual alcohol consumption at no more than 2.1 gallons. Per capita consumption would need to decrease by 3.4 percent each year for the next 3 years to achieve this goal. In 2017, the overall per capita annual alcohol consumption level was more than 10 percent above target (> 2.31 gallons) in 28 States and the District of Columbia, 10 percent or less above target (> 2.10–2.31 gallons) in 13 States, 10 percent below target (1.89–2.10 gallons) in 5 States, and more than 10 percent below target (< 1.89 gallons) in 4 States.
This surveillance report on apparent per capita alcohol consumption in the United States is the 33rd in a series of reports that examine alcohol consumption trends on a national, State, and regional basis. Like previous reports on per capita alcohol consumption, it is intended to provide updated alcohol information for policymakers, health care providers, researchers, and others concerned about alcohol issues.
Data presented in this report are related to one of the national objectives set in Healthy People 2020 for alcohol consumption. Healthy People, a program initiated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, establishes benchmarks to promote longer and higher-quality lives for Americans. The program's objective for alcohol consumption is to reduce the national per capita annual alcohol consumption level by 10 percent from the 2007 baseline value of 2.3 gallons per year to no more than 2.1 gallons per year by 2020 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2012). According to NIAAA (2010), a "standard drink" in the United States contains 0.6 fluid ounces of ethanol. Thus, the target per capita consumption level of 2.1 gallons of ethanol equates to a person age 14 or older consuming approximately an average of 448 standard drinks in a year.
The current report updates the 1977–2016 alcohol consumption trends (Haughwout and Slater 2018) with new data for 2017. Data are shown in four tables. Table 1 presents national data on trends in beer, wine, and spirits consumption as well as on all alcoholic beverages combined. Table 2 presents data on alcohol consumption for individual States for 2017. States also are ranked in deciles according to annual per capita ethanol consumption. Table 3 presents the alcoholic beverage sales and shipment data sources for the volume data presented in Table 2. Table 4 presents data on consumption trends for each type of beverage and all beverages combined for the States as well as for the four regions defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.
Alcohol Consumption Data
AEDS makes every effort to obtain alcoholic beverage sales data from all States and the District of Columbia. AEDS prefers sales data to production and shipments data from beverage industry sources because sales data more accurately reflect actual alcoholic beverage consumption levels. States provide sales data in the form of volume or tax revenue that AEDS converts to gallons by using State tax rates. For 2017, AEDS received beverage sales and/or tax receipts reports from 38 States. AEDS also received spirits and wine sales data for alcoholic beverage control States from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. When State data were unavailable or unusable, AEDS used shipment data from beverage industry sources (Beverage Information Group 2018a, b, c) as a supplementary data source (Table 3). National and regional consumption data were estimated based on the sum of corresponding State-level volumes in gallons. The mixed use of data from sales and shipments sources appears to have little effect on overall trends in per capita alcohol consumption (Campbell et al. 1994; Haughwout et al. 2015). Some of the consumption estimates reported in the current report may differ slightly from those published in the previous year due to updates and revisions based on data received after publication. The types of data sources AEDS used to obtain alcohol consumption data are listed for years 2001–2017 in this report’s data file (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/surveillance.htm).
AEDS obtained State population estimates for people ages 14 and older from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WONDER online query system, which provides bridged-race population estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau in collaboration with the National Center for Health Statistics (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018). These data are used as denominators to calculate the per capita consumption figures.
To make the trend data more precise, AEDS revises data published in previous reports when the Census Bureau revises its population estimates. This report updates the 2010–2016 population estimates using revised bridged-race estimates of the July 1 resident population from the Vintage 2017 postcensal series (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018).
Conversion of Ethanol Content
AEDS uses an estimate of average ethanol content in the alcoholic beverages to convert the gallons of sold or shipped beer, wine, and spirits into gallons of ethanol (pure alcohol) before calculating per capita consumption estimates. For data years 1977–2017, the ethanol conversion coefficients (ECC; i.e., proportion of pure alcohol for each beverage type) are 0.045 for beer, 0.129 for wine, and 0.411 for spirits (Doernberg and Stinson 1985). Following the ethanol conversions, gallons of ethanol for beer, wine, and spirits are summed to gallons of ethanol for all beverages.
AEDS has considered changes in the alcoholic beverage market that may affect the ECCs used in this report. For instance, the introduction of “light” beer, “light” wines, and coolers (both wine and spirits) may have slightly lowered the average ethanol content in some alcoholic beverages. Kling (1989, 1991) suggests that there were decreases in the ethanol content of spirits during the 1980s. However, such decreases may be offset by the increase in sales of drinks with higher ethanol content, such as premium brand liquors, fortified wines, malt liquors, and locally produced beers and ales (microbrews). “Ice” beers and “dry” beers, for example, both have higher ethanol content than either premium or light beers (M. Shanken Communications, Inc. 1994). Therefore, changes in the average net ethanol content across all beverages have probably been minimal and not large enough to alter the trends in overall per capita consumption.
Studies by Kerr and colleagues (2006a, b) estimated national average and State-specific ECCs for beer, wine, and spirits for each year from 1950 to 2002 and recently updated them for the period 2003 to 2016 (Martinez et al. 2019). Their method derived ECCs for each beverage type based on three data components: (1) market shares for subcategories within the beverage type (e.g., table wine and wine coolers within wine); (2) market shares for leading brands in each subcategory; and (3) ethanol contents of these leading brands. Their findings suggest that in 2002, the national average ethanol content was 4.67 percent for beer, 11.45 percent for wine, and 36.90 percent for spirits. Their State-specific estimates indicate that ECCs for all beverage types varied by State and over time. AEDS previously compared per capita consumption estimates derived by Kerr and colleagues with data presented in this surveillance report (Lakins et al. 2007). Results revealed that cross-State correlations between the two data sets are higher than 0.99 for all three beverage types. Similar patterns also were observed in national trends between the two sets of estimates, although there were some differences in absolute values that fluctuated over time. Given the fact that Kerr and colleagues applied their ECCs to the same AEDS beverage volume data to derive their per capita consumption estimates, it was concluded that consumption trends are mainly driven by beverage volumes rather than changes in the ECC estimates.
Because most of the analyses provided in this surveillance report are focused on consumption trends over time, and because of the time- and labor-intensive nature of estimating the ECC every year for each State, AEDS will continue to use the current fixed set of ECCs.
In this report, AEDS uses the population of people ages 14 and older to calculate per capita consumption rates. Although age 14 is below the minimum legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages throughout the United States, most self-report surveys indicate that many people drink alcoholic beverages at age 14. For example, data from the NIAAA 2012–2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions indicate that 9.56 percent of current drinkers ages 18 and older in the United States began drinking at age 14 or younger (Chen et al. 2016). Results from the Monitoring the Future survey in 2016 (Johnston et al. 2017) indicate that 17.6 percent of eighth graders (students ages 13 to 14) reported past-year use of alcohol (i.e., beyond a few sips). Also, using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2013–2015, Chen and colleagues (2017) found the median age of initiation of alcohol use among people ages 12 to 20 to be age 14.6. Nonetheless, per capita consumption estimates for population ages 21 years and older are provided in this report’s data file (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/surveillance.htm).
Estimation of Per Capita Ethanol Consumption
Per capita ethanol consumption for each beverage type are calculated by multiplying national, State, or regional beverage volume by the corresponding ECC and dividing by the national, State, or regional population ages 14 and older. Per capita ethanol consumption of all beverages is calculated directly from the estimated gallons of ethanol for all beverages divided by the population.
Percentage change calculations in this report are based on the numbers presented in the tables, which are rounded to two decimal places.
Readers familiar with survey reports and other scientific literature are accustomed to the presentation of significance tests, or confidence intervals, on any data comparisons or trends. However, because data presented in this report are based on total actual sales and/or shipments, AEDS does not provide measures of statistical significance. Nonetheless, it is important to note that these data are still only estimates and may be subject to reporting error and random fluctuation over time.
In addition to ECCs, many factors may result in inaccuracies of per capita alcohol consumption estimates. For instance, these estimates in some States may be inflated by such factors as cross-border sales to buyers from neighboring States (e.g., in New Hampshire) or tourist consumption of alcohol (e.g., in Washington, D.C.). Other factors include variation in State reporting practices for sales of alcoholic beverages; time delay between State taxation records and actual consumption; exclusion of alcohol contained in medications and foods; unrecorded legal home production; and illicit production, importation, and sales (Rehm et al. 2014). These factors are discussed in detail in the AEDS data reference manual on per capita alcohol consumption (Nephew et al. 2004). Note that the word apparent in this report's title is pertinent, because the estimates in this report are based on the reported volumes of alcoholic beverages released to the market for sale and not on actual measures of people’s alcohol consumption.
Beverage Information Group. Beer Handbook, 2018. Norwalk, CT: Beverage Information Group, 2018a.
Beverage Information Group. Liquor Handbook, 2018. Norwalk, CT: Beverage Information Group, 2018b.
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Campbell, K.E.; Clem, D.; and Williams, G.D. Technical Report: 1986–91 Per Capita Ethanol Consumption Trends Using Beverage Industry Shipments Data Compared to Combined Sales/Tax Receipt and Shipments Data. Washington, DC: NIAAA, Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System, August 1994.
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Kerr, W.C.; Greenfield, T.K.; Tujague, J.; and Brown, S.E. The alcohol content of wine consumed in the US and per capita consumption: New estimates reveal different trends. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 30(3): 516–522, 2006a.
Kerr, W.C.; Greenfield, T.K; and Tujague, J. Estimates of the mean alcohol concentration of the spirits, wine, and beer sold in the United States and per capita consumption: 1950 to 2002. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 30(9): 1583–1591, 2006b.
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Martinez, P.; Kerr, W.C.; Subbaraman, M.S.; and Roberts, S.C.M. New estimates of the mean alcohol content of beer, wine, and spirits sold in the United States show a greater increase in per capita alcohol consumption than previous estimates. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2019 (Epub ahead of print doi: 10.1111/acer.13958).
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List of Figures
Figure 1. Total per capita ethanol consumption, United States, 1935–2017.
Figure 2. Per capita ethanol consumption by beverage type, United States, 1977–2017.
Figure 3. Percentage change in per capita ethanol consumption, United States, 1977–2017.
Figure 4. Total per capita consumption of gallons of ethanol by State, United States, 2017.
Figure 5. Percentage change in total per capita ethanol consumption by State, United States, 2016–2017.
Figure 6. Total per capita ethanol consumption by region, United States, 1977–2017.
Figure 7. Per capita ethanol consumption from beer by region, United States, 1977–2017.
Figure 8. Per capita ethanol consumption from wine by region, United States, 1977–2017.
Figure 9. Per capita ethanol consumption from spirits by region, United States, 1977–2017.
Table 1. Apparent per capita ethanol consumption, United States, 1850–2017.
Table 2. Apparent alcohol consumption for States, census regions, and the United States, 2017.
Table 3. Sources of alcoholic beverage sales and shipment data by State and beverage type, 2017.
Table 4. Per capita ethanol consumption for States, census regions, and the United States, 1977–2017.