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Apparent Per Capita Ethanol Consumption -- United States, 1977-1986

Trend data on apparent ethanol consumption by beverage type reflect long-term alcohol consumption patterns. In 1986, 5.8 billion gallons of beer, 585.3 million gallons of wine, and 394.7 million gallons of spirits were sold in the United States.* For each person aged greater than or equal to 14 years,** these amounts represent 29.8 gallons (approximately 318 12-oz. cans) of beer, 3.0 gallons (77 5-oz. glasses) of wine, and 2.1 gallons (179 1.5-oz. drinks) of spirits. When volumes of beer, wine, and spirits are converted into per capita ethanol volume,*** apparent per capita ethanol consumption in 1986 was: 1.34 gallons of ethanol for beer, 0.39 gallons of ethanol for wine, and 0.85 gallons of ethanol for spirits.

Apparent per capita consumption of ethanol from all beverages combined increased annually from 1977 to 1980, leveled in 1980 and 1981, then declined to 2.58 gallons in 1986--a 2.3% decrease from the 1977 level (Figure 1). Per capita consumption of spirits decreased over this period from a peak of 1.07 gallons in 1978 to 0.85 gallons in 1986. In contrast, wine consumption increased 0.1 gallons between 1977 and 1986, and beer consumption, 0.05 gallons.

Data for specific states differ from national patterns and trends in beverage preference and consumption (Figures 2 and 3). Because nondrinkers as well as drinkers are included in the denominator from which apparent per capita consumption rates are calculated, these rates underestimate the average consumption among persons who drink alcoholic beverages. To adjust for abstention in per capita consumption, estimates of the percentage of abstainers in the population are necessary--ideally, from the same geographic units measured over the same time for which data on beverage sales are available. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data for individual states provided estimates of the percentage of abstainers in 26 states (Table 1). Excluding abstainers substantially alters the per capita consumption ranking of these states. Reported by: MC Dufour, MD, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. FS Stinson, PhD, RA Steffens, CG Freel, D Clem, Alcohol Epidemiology Data System, CSR, Inc, District of Columbia.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In 1986, the decline in consumption of distilled spirits in the United States was greater than for any year since 1956, in terms of both actual cases sold and percentage decrease (2). Per capita consumption of spirits in 1986 was at its lowest level since 1959 (1).

The decline in spirits consumption may represent changes in the drinking patterns and preferences in the drinking-aged population. These changes were reflected by greater interest in beverages with reduced alcohol content (e.g., "light" beers and wine coolers), as well as increased public awareness regarding physical fitness, nutrition, and alcohol abuse (3-5). In 1985, wine coolers accounted for 17% of the wine market (3) and, in 1986, nearly 25% (2). The increased popularity of wine coolers through 1986 may have accounted in part for the increases in wine consumption (5).

Although two thirds of the adult population drink alcoholic beverages, alcohol consumption is unevenly distributed throughout the drinking population: 10% of drinkers (6.5% of the adult population) account for half of all alcohol consumed in the United States (6). In some southern states, historically low levels of apparent per capita consumption may have reflected, in part, the high percentage of abstainers in those states.


  1. Doernberg D, Stinson F. US alcohol epidemiologic data reference manual. Vol 1. US apparent consumption of alcoholic beverages based on state sales, taxation, or receipt data. Rockville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1985.

  2. Jobson Publishing. Jobson's liquor handbook 1987. New York: Jobson Publishing, 1987.

  3. Hecht D, ed. Jobson's liquor handbook 1985. New York: Jobson Publishing, 1985.

  4. Jobson Publishing. Jobson's wine marketing handbook 1987. New York: Jobson Publishing, 1987.

  5. Steffens RA, Stinson FS, Freel CG, Clem D. Apparent per capita alcohol consumption: national, state, and regional trends, 1977-1986. Rockville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1988. (Surveillance report no. 10).

  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Sixth special report to the US Congress on alcohol and health from the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Rockville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1987. *Based on 1986 beverage sales or tax receipt data from 33 states and the District of Columbia and on production and shipment data from beverage industry sources in 17 states that do not furnish data on beverage sales or tax receipts. **Results from the 1983 Alcohol and Health Practices Survey indicated that 6.8% of the U.S. drinking population aged greater than or equal to 18 years started drinking at less than or equal to 14 years of age (NCHS, unpublished data, 1986). ***Coefficients used to convert beer, wine, and spirits to ethanol were 0.045 for beer, 0.129 for wine, and 0.414 for spirits (1).

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