Shocker: Alcoholics subsidizing the alcohol industry

Shocker: Alcoholics subsidizing the alcohol industry

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WASHINGTON, September 28, 2014 – Out of all American adults, 10% have the distinction of almost single-handedly supporting the spirits industry.

A recent poll shows that 30% of American Adults don’t drink – ever. Another 30% of American adults drink less than one drink per week.

But then there are the 10%, some twenty-four million adults that consumer on average 74 drinks per week, or a fraction over ten drinks per day.

According to Philip J. Cook’s “Paying the Tab” that equals

  • Two bottles of wine with dinner, or 14 bottle per week.
  • Four and a Half 740ml bottles of spirits – vodka or whiskey for example
  • Three cases – 24 cans each – of beer per week.

Those are amounts of consumption so staggering as to be incomprehensible however Cook has determined that the top 10% of all drinkers consume more than half of all the alcohol sold in the US. This also means that over 10% of all children in the U.S. live with a parent that has an alcohol problem (2012 study).

That leaves over 30%, those that drink somewhere between hardly ever and a whole lot. But the average person that drinks, drinks three beverages of week.


Which all sounds absolutely excessive, but actually if fits into something called The Pareto principle that defines the allocation of resources and is names for Vlfredo Pareto who noted 20% of the population in his native Italy owned 80% of the land.

That principal applied to consumers in that the accepted rule of thumb for any product is that the top 20 percent of buyers for most any consumer product will account for approximately 80 percent of sales.

Which all leads to the morality, health and social consequences of excessive drinking and the effects of crime, violence, driving under the influence, poor health and lives lost, the cost of those 20% drinking is born by the rest of us.

Alcohol’s abuse affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, immune system and causes cancer in users.

Coincidentally, National Institute of Health says that 7.2% of the adult population, 10% of all men, have “alcohol use disorder” leading to:

  • 88,000 deaths (62,000 men and 26,000 women) per year are related to alcohol making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States
  • In 2012, 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 percent of all global deaths (7.6 percent for men and 4 percent for women), were attributable to alcohol consumption.11
  • Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries.12 In 2012, alcohol accounted for 5.1 percent of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) worldwide.11
  • Globally, alcohol misuse is the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability; among people between the ages of 15 and 49, it is the first.13
  • Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2009, 48.2 percent were alcohol related. The proportion of alcohol-related cirrhosis was highest (70.6 percent) among decedents ages 35–44.26
  • In 2009, alcohol-related liver disease was the primary cause of almost 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States.27
  • Alcohol has been identified as a risk factor for the following types of cancer: mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.28
  • In 2012 31% of driving fatalities were related to alcohol and involving a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a BAC of 0.08 g/dL or greater.

Cook writes:

“One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry,” he writes writes. “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.”

Philip J. Cook is professor of public policy and economics at Duke University and former director of the university’s Sanford Institute of Public Policy. His books include “Gun Violence, The Winner-Take-All Society”, and “Selling Hope”.


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