Frequently Asked Questions – Alcohol

1. Are questions about alcohol use asked every year?

The NHIS first included questions about adult alcohol use in 1977. From then through 1994, questions were asked only in special topic supplements. From 1997 through 2018, questions about average alcohol consumption were asked annually in the Sample Adult questionnaire. Beginning with the 2019 redesigned questionnaire, alcohol questions will be asked on a rotating basis.

2. Can NHIS data be used to estimate alcoholism or alcohol abuse?

No. The NHIS questions ask about typical (or average) alcohol use and are not appropriate for estimating alcoholism or abuse and alcoholism. The 1988 Alcohol Supplement was the only time that the NHIS asked questions that would allow such analysis.

3. Why does the NHIS use a 12-month reference period for alcohol consumption while other surveys ask about past 30 days?

The 30-day recall period is desirable for estimating current prevalence of alcohol use. However, the NHIS is a multi-purpose health survey for which alcohol is often used as a covariate for the study of health characteristics. The past 30-day reference period does not provide sufficient perspective for understanding typical alcohol use or alcohol use history. Specifically, it does not allow for estimation of less frequent or former drinkers or lifetime abstainers.

4. Where can I find information on adult alcohol use in each of the NHIS data years?

The Guide for Data Users provides links to the questionnaires, datasets, documentation and programming code for each NHIS dataset that contains alcohol-related information.

5. I’m having trouble downloading data files for 2005 and earlier. Is there something wrong with the data?

No. The problem likely is due to using a 64-bit Microsoft operating system. NHIS Public Use data sets from 1970-2005 with the .exe file type are unable to be extracted on 64-bit computers running Microsoft operating systems. Data users are advised to rename the .exe files as .zip files and the data sets will extract correctly. This workaround is suggested for data years 1970-2005. For years 2006-2009, the .exe files do extract correctly. Beginning in 2010, NHIS data files are released as .zip files.

6. How can I get more information?

For further information, you may contact:
Division of Health Interview Statistics
(301) 458-4901 or

Data Inquiries
National Center for Health Statistics
3311 Toledo Road
Hyattsville, MD 20782
(301) 458-4000 or toll free 1-800-232-4636