America's Heaviest Drinkers Consume Almost 60% of All Alcohol Sold

Here's something to chat about over your next Zoom cocktail hour: According to the Washington Post, the top 10 percent of American adults drink over half the alcohol sold and consumed in the country.

"The top 10 percent of American drinkers — 24 million adults over age 18 — consume, on average, 74 alcoholic drinks per week," Washington Post reported. "That works out to a little more than four-and-a-half 750 ml bottles of Jack Daniels, 18 bottles of wine, or three 24-can cases of beer. In one week." This averages out to roughly 10 drinks a day.

However, 30 percent of American adults don't drink at all.

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A stock image of a glass of beer. The top 10 percent of American drinkers consume nearly 60 percent of all alcohol. Getty

These shocking statistics come from Philip J. Cook's study Paying The Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control. Cook, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, examines how everyone is affected by alcohol by using data drawn from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC).

"There are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey," Cook revealed.

According to the Pareto Law, Cook noted, "the top 20 percent of buyers for most any consumer product account for fully 80 percent of sales." Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, the principle shows that the minority owns the majority. In general, it can be applied to many products, from makeup to electronics.

The alcohol industry is dependent on these folks in the top percentile. "One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry," Cook wrote in Paying the Tab. "If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent."

Most recently, amid the coronavirus pandemic, alcohol sales have seen an increase. According to market research firm Nielsen, the week ending on March 21 saw a 55 percent spike in alcohol sales throughout the country. This was around the time New York went on PAUSE, and many consumers worried about the coronavirus began loading up their pantries.

When essential businesses shut down, liquor stores remained open. Officials and advocates believed that liquor stores, along with marijuana dispensaries open, are an "essential component to the broader health care system."

"Governors in these states recognize that there is a careful balance between protecting public health while also protecting state and local economies and continuing to serve consumers," the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States told Newsweek in April.

The numbers of alcohol sales and consumption by the end of the pandemic will be very interesting.