Adults drank more alcohol in 2012–2013 than they did in 2001–2002, according to the most recent National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). NESARC–III is a cross-sectional survey sponsored, designed, and directed by NIAAA and is the largest study ever conducted on the co-occurrence of alcohol use, drug use, and related psychiatric conditions.

To assess how drinking patterns have changed over time, researchers compared the NESARC–III data with that from Wave 1 NESARC. In both surveys, which had similar objectives and content areas, researchers assessed a large sample of U.S. adults through personal interviews conducted in participants’ homes. However, unlike Wave 1 NESARC, NESARC–III researchers collected saliva samples from participants for future DNA analyses.

Data analysis revealed that between 2001–2002 and 2012–2013, past-year drinking prevalence increased from 65.4 percent to 72.7 percent, and the prevalence of monthly binge drinking increased from 21.5 percent to 25.8 percent. Likewise, overall frequency of drinking increased from 83.5 days per year to 87.9 days per year. The authors of the study observed that these statistics, along with the increase in daily alcohol consumption (from 0.628 ounces to 0.751 ounces), indicate “a wetter drinking climate.”

One particularly striking finding was that African Americans experienced disproportionate increases in past-year drinking prevalence (from 53.2 percent to 66.1 percent) and past-month binge drinking prevalence (from 19 percent to 27.7 percent), as well as average daily volume (from 0.751 ounces to 1.033 ounces), compared with Caucasians. The authors suggest this may indicate disparities in treatment availability and/or treatment seeking.

Another notable finding was that percent increases in prevalence and overall drinking frequency were about twice as high for women as for men, prior to adjustment for sociodemographic differences. Adjusting for these differences, women demonstrated larger increases than men in all consumption measures. According to the authors, this finding may contribute to evidence of a closing gender gap in heavy drinking.

Looking ahead, scientists will continue to analyze the various waves of NESARC data to advance our understanding of drinking trends through comparison of survey results over time.

Dawson, D.A.; Goldstein, R.B.; Saha, T.D.; and Grant, B.F. Changes in alcohol consumption: United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 148:56–61, 2015. PMID: 25620731


Reprinted from the NIAAA Spectrum, Volume 8, Issue 1, June 2016.