Dizzying Stat: 10% of American Adults Down at Least 10 Drinks a Day - Guess Who's Paying

Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham seems fascinated with charts and economic statistics and public policy professor Philip J. Cook is fascinated with America's love-hate relationship with alcohol. Let these two minds meet for a few moments and what you’ll learn about booze is shocking.


Ingraham got a hold of Cook’s new book, Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, which chronicles the economic and societal costs of destructive drinking. And what he found in it is stunning. Cook says that 10% of American adults participate in destructive drinking to the point where they’re consuming at least 10 drinks a day. That’s more than two bottles of wine or about two-thirds of a 750ML bottle of hard liquor. Or as Cook’s research shows, almost 74 drinks a week.

Moreover, Cook’s research shows about 30% of U.S. adults consume at least a drink a day and 20% have second.

If just thinking about that size of those tabs gives you nausea and inspires you to be nicer to your liver, you’re in good company; more than 30% of Americans don’t drink at all, according to the data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions that Cook used in his book.

Turns out Ingraham is as shocked as we are and called the author just to be sure:

I double-checked these figures with Cook, just to make sure I wasn't reading them wrong. "I agree that it’s hard to imagine consuming 10 drinks a day," he told me. But, "there are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey."

As Cook notes in his book, the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year.

Paying the Tab is touted as the first comprehensive analysis of destructive drinking. Cook, who is a well-known public policy wonk, looks at alcohol from an economic viewpoint.  In his book, Cook comes to the conclusion that, the U.S. would need to implement more rigorous regulations on alcohol consumption if it wants to reduce the costs of excessive drinking.  

The book dovetails with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that says excessive alcohol consumption cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006, or about $1.90 a drink. That comes out to $746 per person, with about three-quarters of those costs due to binge drinking. Additionally, excessive drink kills some 88,000 people per year, according to the CDC.

Both Cook and the CDC — which conducted it research along with the Lewin Group — come to the conclusion that we need effective strategies to reduce excessive alcohol consumption.

The costs of drinking, according to the CDC, come mostly from losses in workplace productivity (72%), health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11%), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption (9%), and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving (6%).

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