American’s Alcohol Preferences “More Closely Divided” Than Ever

August 23, 2022

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Two in 3 American adults drink alcohol, while one-third are total abstainers, according to Gallup’s latest annual survey of alcohol consumption in the US. The 67% reporting having occasion to use alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine or beer ties the highest mark in more than 40 years.

The previous high was 70% in January 1981, with this latest figure of 67% matched only in July 2010 and February 1985. Over the survey’s history dating back to 1939, the highest rate of alcohol consumption was from 1976-1978 (71% each year), whereas the lowest rate was in 1958 (55%). At least 6 in 10 adults have reported drinking alcohol each year since 1997, though last year that figure stood at exactly 60%. It’s worth noting that the question was not asked in 2020, when the early days of the pandemic may have impacted consumption habits.

Meanwhile, among alcohol drinkers, 3 in 10 reported having had a drink in the previous 24 hours, somewhat on the low end of the 26-40% range in the past 40-odd years dating back to 1984. Another 36% of drinkers reported their last drink within the previous week, and a further third (33%) more than a week earlier.

Alcohol Preferences Approach Parity

The survey asks alcohol drinkers if they most often drink liquor, wine, or beer. In almost all of the surveys dating back the past 30 years to 1992, beer has emerged as the type of alcohol that the largest share of respondents drink most regularly. The only exception was in 2005, when more respondents reported drinking wine most than beer.

This year is no exception to the trend, with 35% saying that they drink beer the most, outpacing wine and liquor. However, this 35% figure is the lowest rate in the survey’s history. When the question was first asked in 1992, almost half (47%) of all drinkers said they consumed beer the most.

Alcohol drinkers’ preference for wine has remained relatively steady, at 31% this year. This figure has not dipped below 30% since 1996, and has been in the 30-35% range since 2006.

What appears to be changing is the preference for liquor: this year 30% said they most often drink liquor, representing a new high in the survey, and topping the previous mark of 29% set in 2019. This is the 4th time that liquor preferences have exceeded 25% in the past 5 editions of the survey, whereas that mark had never been attained in any survey edition before 2017.

A separate new study [pdf] from IRI confirms that “exclusive spirits buyers are adding to their ranks.” In its analysis of alcohol buying groups, IRI found that 11% share buy only spirits, up by almost 2% points year-over-year. Another 12% share buy a combination of spirits and beer, while 9% are combo spirits and wine buyers.

Among alcohol buyers, those purchasing a combination of beer, wine and spirits represent the largest buyer group, at 27% share. If current trends hold, the analysts forecast “the combination of beer, wine and spirits consumers to increase to 30% within one to three years.”

Given the increasing parity in alcohol consumption expressed by respondents to the Gallup survey, this prediction certainly seems feasibly.

About the Data: The Gallup results are based on a July survey of 1,013 US adults (18+). The IRI data is based on IRI National Consumer Panel, total US – all outlets, for the 52-week period ending June 12 2022.

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