As a practitioner, one way to assess your clients’ drinking habits is to have them compare their current consumption level to how much the rest of the nation is drinking. ARG senior scientist, Thomas K. Greenfield and biostatistician Yu Ye took data from the 2015 National Alcohol Survey (NAS) consisting of individuals residing in 50 states and Washington DC, and looked at the number of drinks both women and men said they consumed per week on average in the previous 12 months.
Ask your client to add up how much they usually drink in a week. They’ll need to think about how many glasses, bottles, or cans of alcoholic beverages they consumed in a typical 7 day period including weekdays and weekends. You may want to review with them how a standard drink is defined and how to measure it.
Once they’ve added up the number of drinks, you can use the table below to find the number of drinks that matches your client’s then look at the percentage in the right-hand column. The percentage tells you the number of women or men out of 100 people drink as much or less than your client.
# OF DRINKS PER WEEK
* Results rounded to the nearest percentile. The NIAAA weekly volume guideline is not to exceed 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women. (Daily guideline is no more than 4 drinks in any day for men, and 3 drinks in any day for women.) Refer to the U.S. low-risk drinking guidelines.
As you can see, for men, the drinking norms or the typical number of drinks per week, overall, were higher than for women. Twenty-eight percent of men reported that they abstained from drinking completely (38% of women) during the last 12 months. As another example, about three-quarters (78)% of men reported drinking 7 or fewer drinks in a typical week (or one drink a day or less on average) while for women about 90% consumed 7 or less drinks/week.
Keep in mind that while overall “average volume” of alcohol consumption increases risks of health harms including various types of cancer (Nelson et al., 2013) for risks of social and health harms it is not only your average weekly intake that matters, it is also pattern of drinking. Those who have an average intake of even 7-14 drinks a week but occasionally “binge” (5 or more drinks in a day for men, 4 or more drinks in a day for women) are known to have higher risks of negative health outcomes including alcohol dependence (Greenfield et al, 2014), injuries and DWI (Cherpitel et al, 2010) and even dying of ischaemic heart disease (IHD; Roerecki et al. 2011), compared to those getting the same average intake by more evenly drinking alcohol in smaller regular amounts (Rehm, Greenfield & Kerr, 2006).
To help your clients change their drinking patterns, you can download the drinking norms infographic (PDF) and ask them to share it with friends and family. You can also provide them with the low-risk drinking guidelines, NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking or suggest they consult Miller & Muñoz’s book, Controlling Your Drinking: Tools to Make Moderation Work for You.
Source: 2015 National Alcohol Survey (NAS) of 7,071 individuals, residing in 50 states and Washington DC. The 2010 NAS was conducted for the National Alcohol Research Center, Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California, under Center Grant P50 AA005595 (T. K. Greenfield, PI 2000-2015; W. C. Kerr, 2016-present) from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Please cite the above source and funding.
The 2015 NAS involved a random digit dialed dual-frame sample involving both landline household telephones and cell phones, with computer assisted telephone interviews conducted during 2014-15 in English and Spanish. The survey included oversamples of African American and Hispanic respondents. Results are weighted to the 2013 American Community Survey so as to be representative of the U.S. adult population aged 18 and older.
Cherpitel, C.J., Ye, Y., Greenfield, T.K., Bond, J., Kerr, W.C., Midanik, L.T., (2010). Alcohol-related injury and driving while intoxicated: a risk function analysis of two alcohol-related events in the 2000 and 2005 National Alcohol Surveys. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 36, 168-174. Abstract or Full Text.
Dawson, D.A., (2011). Defining risk drinking. Alcohol Res Health 34, 144-156. Full text available.
Greenfield, T.K., Ye, Y., Bond, J., Kerr, W.C., Nayak, M.B., Kaskutas, L.A., Anton, R.F., Litten, R.Z., Kranzler, H.R., (2014). Risks of alcohol use disorders related to drinking patterns in the US general population. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 75, 319-327. Abstract or Full Text.
Kerr, W.C., Stockwell, T., (2012). Understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines. Drug Alcohol Rev 31, 200-205. Abstract or Full Text.
Miller, W.R., Muñoz, R.F., (2013). Controlling Your Drinking: Tools to make moderation work for you. Guilford Press, New York.
National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, (2009). Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your health [Accessed: 2011-03-02. Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5wtRANlQ7]. National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, Bethesda, MD.