10% of Americans have 10 or more alcoholic drinks every day


Tim Harford shared this story on Twitter, and then he shared an interesting caveat from Forbes about it here.

It questions the validity of applying the 1.97 multiplier across the board, in particular to the top decile.


This was on the reading list of one of my American history courses in high school…


That’s a huge number, I thought I was above average in that hobby but it turns out that I’m just small time.

How everyone sees Americans now;

Does a nip from a hip flask count? It’s gotta be spirits, if it was wine (4 glasses per bottle) or beer you’d simply not function day to day unless you were “town drunk” in an old timey town position (plus all that time takin’ a whizz).


Ever noticed how in virtually every USA TV show the characters make a big deal out of drinking booze?

Arrive, have a scotch. Dinner, lots of wine. Thinking on your own in your bedroom - glass of wine. Lonely and heartbroken - beers. Cop off duty? Beers, and plenty of them. CEO? Finest scotch from crystal vessels. Down and out? Paper bag with concealed grog. At college? Beer bongs.

I don’t know about you lot, but if I did that, I couldn’t function in my role as father / worker / aspirant for a better future.


Yeah but they have short pints…


It would be nice to know what the range of each decile is, rather than just the average. I suppose there’s some way to estimate it if you’re any good at math and make some reasonable assumptions. Mostly I’m wondering whether my 18 drinks allows me to lay claim to being in the top 10%.


you have to think like a metric minded individual.

(% alcohol)*(size in liters)=units of alcohol

Thus a 44ml jigger of 80 proof gin would be 1.8 units.


A “drink” for these kinds of statistics is an ounce of liquor. Once someone develops a serious tolerance, the mixes get a bit stronger, the pour a bit heavier. The classic “two fingers” of scotch can be 5 ounces - 5 drinks. Two of those in a night, and you’re at your 10 drinks.


Per day? Holy moly, that’s like the 99th… oh, per week. I doubt it, just eyeballing the curve. It’s an interesting math problem - what’s the likely value at exactly 90%, if the curve is smooth? I have a feeling it depends strongly on the shape of the tail of the distribution.


I was surprised more by there being 30% that don’t drink at all than there being 10% who average 10/day. If the heavy drinkers space those drinks out over the course of the day, they may not be all that drunk at any given time, although they still have the cumulative effect of running all that booze through their livers. (Plus, of course, there are some serious alcoholics who put away way more than ten a day; I’ve heard people in recovery talk about their “maintenance fifth” of hard liquor, and before Alice Cooper sobered up, he was putting away a case of beer a day.)


My dad’s an alcoholic. When I was in high school I estimated from the evidence I could find that he drank half a fifth of scotch each day. But now that he’s in his 70’s I’m not sure exactly where he is at. He is incredibly secretive about his drinking. But one thing is for sure, he drinks everything he buys. There is no bar at his place and never was when I was younger. 10 drinks a day seems about right, though that means there are many days with none and days with far more.

About 15 years ago he developed neuropathy, which means that when he overdoes, he cannot walk at all because he can’t use his legs right. He also has terrible dental issues and diabetes resulting from years of pancreatitis. All of these are directly related to drinking.

It’s good to see some kind of information about alcoholism given airtime recently, but I think if people really educated themselves they’d find there is absolutely no choice involved, that it is all but impossible for many people to give up drinking. I always cringe at TV shows that portray someone going to rehab and getting all better immediately after, never relapsing.


That’s the day
I throw my drugs away
When they find a cure for pain


Did you, by any chance, see Boyhood?


Of course their drinks are bigger, they have to be. To borrow a phrase, their beer is like making love in a canoe.


Oh yeah, that was great. For days after the movie I was thinking about that film; what an accomplishment.


It’s amazing what legality and social acceptance will do to our reaction to statistics, without necessarily changing the actual figures much.

Would you be surprised to learn that most Americans don’t consume any heroin at all, that the majority of heroin users don’t actually consume very much, and that the great majority of heroin is sold to a small number who are seriously addicted? I’m guessing that only that middle part would be surprising to most, because moderate, non- or barely-problematic heroin use is kept effectively hidden by the users. Of the heavy users, a lot probably also manage to keep their use hidden, and only the most desperate and dysfunctional can’t keep it a secret.

Meanwhile, with alcohol, the moderate users can be open about it, and we don’t get exposed to the level of use that’s above what’s socially acceptable to reveal, but below the level of total dysfunction where it just can’t be hidden.


I thought it was “A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe”

And yet, Americans can’t figure out how many ounces of beer belong in a pint.


I was all fired up with a rebuttal, but then I actually read the rest of your post.


I don’t know about that - a well functioning liver disposes of about one drink an hour. If you start early enough in the evening, you could keep a one-drink buzz going from quitting time till bedtime, have a triple for a nightcap, and never be seen drunk at all.


Aye, true.