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Many Americans Don’t Drink Alcohol

Nearly one-third of adult Americans do not drink alcohol at all. Furthermore, another one-third of adult Americans consume less than one alcoholic drink per week. These figures from a Washington Post article astonished me; far more Americans don’t drink alcohol or very light drinkers than I had realized. 

The Reasons Americans Don’t Drink Alcohol

I’ve been in alcohol recovery for eight years, and most people I hang out with don’t drink.About 33% of Americans don't drink alcohol. It might not feel this way to alcoholics, but if you're an American who doesn't drink alcohol, you're not alone. In fact, I’m so accustomed to talking with people in substance abuse recovery that I forget there are other reasons someone might not drink alcohol. A few weeks ago, I was at a conference and when I heard one of my fellow classmates didn’t drink, I immediately assumed he was in alcoholism recovery. When I asked him about it, he responded that he did not drink because he is Mormon.

This had never even occurred to me. But the truth is, I have known people from various religions or non-religious people who choose not to consume alcohol. My best friend from childhood drank a little bit in college, but it didn’t appeal to her and now she doesn’t. Another good friend of mine chooses not to drink because she doesn’t like to feel out of control. I also know health conscious folks who abstain from alcohol because they feel the negative health effects of alcohol outweigh the possible positive ones.

Most Americans Drink Less Alcohol Than You Think

According to statistics from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), 30% of American adults don’t consume alcohol. Of those that do drink, the median number of drinks per week is three. The mean average is misleading because the actual data is very lopsided: the top 10% of Americans drink on average 74 alcoholic drinks per week–over 10 a day. This means that many Americans drink little or nothing, but those folks on the high end of the spectrum often binge drink and hit the bottle–or can–hard.

Drinking Little or No Alcohol is Normal for Americans

In 2013, 43.6% of Americans over age 18 reported drinking no alcoholic beverages in the past month, according to NESARC data. Furthermore, 29.3% drank no alcohol in the past year. I’m not here to tell anyone they drink too much or that their drinking is abnormally high, but I think it’s important for those of us who have given up alcohol to realize we are not alone.

I never thought of alcohol as something you could take or leave. To me it seemed people either didn’t drink or it was a huge part of their lives. But then again, I am not a moderate person in general. I can’t just smoke an occasional cigarette, now and then, for example: I’m actively addicted or I’m abstinent. I now know that living with little or no alcohol drinking is a perfectly viable and acceptable way to live. When we are in our addiction, we tend to surround ourselves with people who drink or use like us. That is why it sometimes feels like we are the only ones who are clean and sober. In fact, those of us in addiction recovery are in good, and expansive, company.

You can find Kira Lesley on Google+Facebook and Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Many Americans Don’t Drink Alcohol”

  1. I never drank very much (~2 drinks per week), but I stopped drinking entirely last year because I realized that I was only consuming alcohol to feel normal. I don’t actually like it, it always makes me feel a bit sick, and it’s expensive. Here’s what I found interesting: when I stopped drinking entirely, people around me started drinking less. We would have a couple of people over for dinner and go through three bottles of wine, and now the same people come for dinner and we go through 1 or 2 at most. I was never drinking a whole bottle, and nothing else has changed except there’s a person at the table having sparking water or ginger ale instead. I think this is really interesting and powerful. A couple of months ago a friend who is trying to quit realized that I wasn’t having anything when we were out at the bar, and said that he wouldn’t have anything either. This guy normally drinks like a fish. So if you’re not that into drinking, you can act as an anchor for people who struggle when you choose not to drink. I get far more enjoyment out of that than out of a glass of wine.

  2. I hope it’s okay to respond to this since I drink (1 drink almost every day and this consists of either 1.5 oz of rum mixed w/ 10-12 oz of Diet Pepsi or 1 12 oz beer). (For the record, I’m 70 years old and prior to retirement 18 years ago, I drank 3-4 drinks per week. When I was in college I drank a lot more than that, but stopped when I graduated and entered the workforce). I have always considered myself a moderate drinker and am not so sure about this after reading a number of articles about consumption of alcohol among US citizens.) According to statistics, I definitely drink more than the average person in the US. I don’t look askance at those who don’t drink or wonder why they abstain. However, I don’t appreciate it when people who don’t drink for religious reasons proselytize and attempt to impose their beliefs about alcohol on me. (I live in the South.)

    1. Hi Suzan,

      Thank you very much for your comments. It is interesting to me because I live in a place where people drink a lot and production of alcoholic beverages is a big part of the economy and, increasingly it seems, the identity. I have not spent enough time in the South to know what that’s like, but I think it’s unfortunate and unhelpful when anyone judges, especially if it’s not coming from a place of genuine concern.
      It can be difficult to tell from the averages alone, but one of the things I found interesting about the articles I read for this piece was that consumption seemed to be at extremes. The people who consume the most alcohol in America consume a lot of it, and then a lot of people don’t drink at all. But as for the amount that you drink, I am not a professional but it seems to me the most important thing is not the volume per se (though that can be a useful indicator) but how it is affecting you. Certainly some people can drink in moderation, or they can take it or leave. Then for others, it begins to interfere with their lives. If you are concerned, you could talk to your health care professional about some sort of assessment. But if it does not create any problems for you (physical, psychological, emotional, etc.) then it’s certainly not my place to pass judgement on you, or anyone else for that matter! Thank you for sharing your insights, and you are certainly welcome to read and comment whether you are an alcoholic/addict or not!

  3. No drinking for over thirty two years. Drank a lot before. Only one or two people in my family drink. I know it is often viewed as a disease if you do not drink. I have found just the opposite that fun, and anything I choose do I can do without drinking. It seems like people view themselves as sick and deficient so they are somehow in need of medicine. The booze is like medicine and used to make up for the perceived sickness, failure of belief that it will fix things. I do not take medicine either and use the placebo to just keep myself in great shape and also imagination works well to move along and is free. Watch out you do not imagine yourself in to a troublesome trap as some do.

    1. Hi David, and thank you for your comments. Congratulations on three decades of sobriety! That is very inspiring for many of us. I know a lot of people who do not take any medication at all. I personally do, although I’m very careful about it and won’t take anything that feels triggering.

  4. I don’t drink at all I’ve never had the desire too but a lot of my friends who do drink look at me like I told them I eat human flesh

    And people on Facebook say I’m a moron for not wanting too drink well this site shows that a lot of people don’t drink at all

    1. Matthew, thank you very much for your comments. I know what you mean about people looking at you like you’re crazy. I was surprised by these statistics myself. It just goes to show we can’t take the reactions of a few people around us as indicative of how the whole country feels!

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