A new, in-depth study of America’s drinking habits indicates there wasn’t much change in the overall number of imbibers from 2005 to 2012. There was a marked increase, however, in who was doing the drinking and how the drinking was done: the number of American women who are binge drinking skyrocketed during the study period.

Consumption Definitions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks disease and death from all causes for the entire nation and its territories. It also establishes standard definitions for terms that affect public health, including:

  • Heavy drinking — More than one serving of an alcoholic beverage per day for a month for women; more than two per day for men.
  • Binge drinking — Four or more servings of alcohol on one occasion during the previous month for women; five or more servings for men.

Who’s Drinking

The study — “Drinking patterns in US counties from 2002 to 2012” — explored American drinking habits on a county-basis rather than on the more traditional statewide basis because county demographics vary greatly within state borders. The lowest county-level consumption rate was 11.0%, for example, but the highest was 78.7%. Most counties saw an increase in heavy and binge drinking but the increase rates varied widely. Interactive maps which pinpoint drinking habits by county are part of the study.

Other findings include:

  • 56% of all Americans had at least one alcoholic beverage in 2005 and 2012
  • 8.2% were heavy drinkers in 2012
  • 18.3% were binge drinkers
  • 2.4% of the residents of Hancock County, Tennessee, were heavy drinkers (the lowest rate in the nation)
  • 22.4% were drinking heavily in Esmeralda County, Nevada (the national high)
  • 5.9% in Madison County, Idaho, binged on booze (the low)
  • 36% did so in Menominee County, Wisconsin (the high)
  • The national rate of men binge drinking between 2005 and 2012 rose by 4.9%
  • The national rate for binge-drinking women rose by 17.5%

Regionally, people in the West, Midwest, and New England consume the most alcohol while the fewest number of drinkers live in the Southern US and Utah.

Public Health Burden

While some studies indicate health benefits of alcohol consumption in moderation, the health risks associated with heavy and binge drinking impact public health services and their cost at county and state levels. The authors of the study suggest their county-based findings could be used to design and implement more accurately targeted alcohol interventions that would reduce the public health burden at the local level.


  1. "Heavy drinking and binge drinking rise sharply in US counties." IHME / Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. University of Washington, Apr. 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.
  2. "Alcohol's Effects on the Body." NIH / National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. US Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 7 May 2015.
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