Over 35 Years & Still Going Strong

NAS - HowOftenDrinkWhen the National Alcohol Survey (NAS) first began in the mid-1960s, over 2500 people across the US were interviewed.  Since then, the NAS has grown to include almost 8,000 US adults enabling both understanding mechanisms underlying drinking behaviors and the long-term monitoring of our nation’s drinking patterns and its associated problems.  While our drinking habits and relationship to alcohol have changed, measuring such changes provides a greater understanding of how alcohol impacts our lives and has led to developments in policies, legislation and behavioral interventions that help us be healthier.

Playing a fundamental role in such developments has been the cornerstone of the periodic NAS, a core of the National Alcohol Research Center as a whole. As the survey scientists continue to build on its successes, they also seek to improve how alcohol consumption data and associated outcomes are gathered and measured within this area of research.

“With each iteration of the study, we’re refining how and what we measure so we can create a more complete understanding of alcohol’s effects on both the individual and their community,” says ARG’s Scientific Director Tomas K. Greenfield. “For instance, we’ve oversampled specific racial/ethnic groups to help us understand the role that alcohol plays in creating health disparities between these populations so we can help reduce specific problems each group experiences.”

Other changes include new age-period-cohort (APC) modeling enabling the assessment of long term and recent trends to reveal the differences between generations and across the life course.  The most recent survey also measures both the causes and effects of alcohol dependence, drunk driving, accidents and injuries, and how heavy drinking impacts the family, work life, and what new services and policies may be needed.

Including neighborhood and county-level geo-referencing in the current and past two surveys also captures key environmental measures of alcohol availability, local drinking culture and socioeconomic conditions. These data provided a more complete picture of how a person’s physical and social environment plays a role in drinking behavior.

“We know that our environment impacts our health. The same is true for alcohol consumption – where you live, the stress you encounter and your personal and cultural beliefs about drinking all help shape whether and when you drink and how much,” explains ARG Scientist Katherine Karriker-Jaffe, who has been working with the NAS since she was a fellow at ARG  and is now the survey’s Study Director.  “The ability to have such a flexible and inclusive tool to look at drinking across the nation is an incredible resource that we continue to mine for robust and reliable information.”

The National Alcohol Survey just completed its eighth survey of US households with systematic national measurements of alcohol use patterns, other drug use, associated disorders, and numerous social determinants now spanning more than 35 years.

Recent Findings from Studies Using NAS Data

Drinking and Driving: Black and Hispanic drinkers are more likely to overestimate how much they can safely drink two hours before driving. Results determined that, on average and controlling for other factors such as weight, education and drinking history, self-reported impairment thresholds (number of standard drinks one could drink in 2 hours before driving without being impaired) were 30% higher for Black drinkers and 26% higher for Hispanic drinkers than for White drinking drivers.  Read more.

Cannabis Use and Alcohol Consumption: The prevalence of simultaneous use of cannabis and alcohol was almost twice as high as concurrent use, suggesting that individuals who use both cannabis and alcohol tend to use them at the same time. Simultaneous use approximately doubled the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harms to self.  Read more.

Second-hand Drinking and Policy Support: Adjusting for demographics and drinking patterns, number of harms from others’ drinking predicted support for alcohol policies. In a similar model, family- and aggression-related harms, riding with a drink driver and being concerned about another’s drinking all significantly influenced favor for stronger alcohol policy.  Read more.

Drinking Trends: Overall trend results indicate an increase in alcohol volume of 25% from 2000 to 2010 with similar changes between 2000 to 2005 and 2005 to 2010. Black and Hispanic women were found not to have participated in the overall trend of increased alcohol volume.  Read more.

Risk of Developing an Alcohol Use Disorder: Men and women who consumed ≤1 drink/day on average with no heavy drinking days did not have a substantial risk of developing of an alcohol use disorder (AUD).  However, men who drank 1 to 2 drinks/day on average but never 5+ had a 16% risk of developing an AUD. Men and women who indicated higher rates of drinking larger amounts per day and/or involving 8+ and 12+ drinks/day (and even 24+ drinks/day for men) showed much higher risks of experiencing AUDs. Read more.

Comparing Alcohol Consumption Across Birth Cohorts: Relative to the 1956-60 birth cohort, men in the 1976-1980 cohort consumed more alcohol and had more 5+ days (the number of days having five or more drinks) as were men in the 1980-85 cohort for volume. For women, those in the 1980-85 cohort were found to have higher alcohol volume and more 5+ days. Read more.


Greenfield T.K., Ye Y., Bond J., Kerr W.C., Nayak M.B., Kaskutas L.A., Anton, R.E., Litten, R.Z., Kranzler, H.R. (2014). Risks of alcohol use disorders related to drinking patterns in the US general population. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(2), 319-327 Abstract or Full Text

Greenfield T.K., Karriker-Jaffe K.J., Giesbrecht N., Kerr W.C., Ye Y., Bond J. (2014). Second-hand drinking may increase support for alcohol policies: new results from the 2010 National Alcohol Survey. Drug & Alcohol Review, 33(3), 259-267 Abstract or Full Text

Kerr W.C., Greenfield T.K. (2015). Racial/ethnic disparities in the self-reported number of drinks in 2 hours before driving becomes impaired. American Journal of Public Health, Jan 20 e1-e6 Abstract or Full Text

Kerr, W.C., Mulia, N., & Zemore, S.E. (2014). US trends in light, moderate and heavy drinking episodes from 2000 to 2010. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 38(9), 2496-501 Abstract or Full Text

Kerr, W.C., Greenfield, T.K., Ye, Y., Bond, J., & Rehm, J. (2013). Are the 1976-1985 birth cohorts heavier drinkers? Age-period-cohort analyses of the National Alcohol Surveys 1979-2010. Addiction, 108(6), 1038-1048 Abstract or Full Text

Subbaraman M.S., Kerr W.C. (2015). Simultaneous versus concurrent use of alcohol and cannabis in the National Alcohol Survey. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(5), 872-879. Abstract or Full Text