How much alcohol is too much?

by / Comments Off on How much alcohol is too much? / 256 View / September 13, 2015

Ever wonder if you or someone you know drinks too much? I recently read some amazing statistics about alcohol use based on a survey of consumption in the U.S. conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Duke Professor Philip Cook analyzed the NIAAA data by breaking the statistics down into deciles. Each decile represents 10% of the American population 18 years of age and older.

The bottom 3 deciles (30%) of Americans said they didn’t drink at all. Another 10% of people (the 4th decile) reported they only had one drink per year. Dr. Cook says that people under report how much alcohol they consume, but it’s fair to say that this segment of the population rarely touches the stuff.

The 5th decile calculated that they consumed only 7 alcoholic beverages a year, while the 6th decile figured they’d had 32 drinks in the course of a year. What this means is that 60% of Americans age 18 and older consume less than 2 drinks per month.

The 7th decile said they typically had 2 drinks a week, occasionally as many as three. The 8th decile reported having just over 6 alcoholic beverages a week. If you have one glass of wine with dinner every night your alcohol consumption puts you into the top 30% of adults. This is the level many health experts recommend as studies show a glass of red wine every day reduces the risk of heart disease.

People in the 9th decile stated they averaged just over 2 alcoholic beverages a day, placing them in the top 20% of drinkers. Is this group getting close to reaching that top 10% who have a drinking problem? Not even close.

Individuals in the 10th decile averaged 73.85 ounces of alcohol per week. Drinkers in the top 10% reported having more than 10 shots of liquor or 2 bottles of wine or nearly a 12 pack of beer every night. This group accounts for more than half of all the alcohol consumed in American each year.

This is a shocking amount of alcohol to be drinking every day. Even family members are surprised when they find out how much their loved one is consuming. People in the top segment don’t tell others that they have 10 drinks a night, says Dr. Cook. They fill up a water glass with whiskey, sprinkle in a few ice cubes, and call it one drink.

Some drinkers don’t imbibe every day, thereby claiming they don’t have a problem. In fact, only 6.8% of people reported being heavy drinkers (> 5 drinks > 5 times a month). However, 24.6% of individuals over 18 said they’d engaged in binge drinking at least once a month.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, defines binge drinking as drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.

Binge drinking is a particular problem for young adults ages 18-22. 33% of people in that age group (39% of college students) acknowledged being binge drinkers. Almost 10% (13% of college students) admitted to being heavy drinkers.

Underage drinking is also rampant. Over 14% of the 12-20 year old population report being binge drinkers, with another 4% admitting heavy drinking. That’s nearly 1 in 5 American kids.

What are the consequences of alcohol abuse? Nearly 88,000 people died from alcohol-related causes in 2013, making it the 3rd leading preventable cause of death. More than 10,000 of those deaths were from alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Alcohol abuse contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related conditions, according to the NIAAA. Excessive drinking increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.

The consequences of alcohol abuse among college students are significant. Nearly 700,000 are physically assaulted every year by a student who’s been drinking. Almost 100,000 college students report experiencing an alcohol-related sexual assault or rape each year. About 1 in 4 college students say their academic performance has been negatively impacted due to their drinking.

How much is too much? For women, NIAAA defines low-risk drinking as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it’s no more than 4 drinks a day and no more than 14 drinks per week. Research shows that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these limits have an Alcohol Use Disorder.