Newswise — There have been dramatic increases in the United States in alcohol-related problems.  During the past decade the death rate from all types of alcoholic liver disease increased by more than 40%, alcohol-related emergency department visits increased by 62%, and the prevalence of alcohol use disorder among adults increased by nearly 50%.  Despite these increases in alcohol-related morbidity and mortality, there have not been notable increases seen in U.S. per capita alcohol consumption.  

Researchers hypothesized that this discrepancy may be partially due to inaccurate estimates of alcohol consumption, particularly a failure to keep pace with changes in beverage alcohol content over time.  To test this hypothesis, the researchers estimated the annual mean percentage of alcohol by volume (%ABV) of beer, wine, and spirits sold in the United States using the %ABV of major brands and sales of each beverage type for each state and nationally for the period 2003-2016.  Comparing these sets of estimates, they found that, for all beverage types, the mean %ABV estimates increased nationally and for all but five states. The increases were driven by an increase in national and state preferences by consumers for beverages with a higher and increasing %ABV and a decrease in preference for lower %ABV beverages. 

The researchers concluded that it is necessary to use annual estimates of the %ABV of alcoholic beverages sold in the United States to ensure the precision of estimated per capita alcohol consumption measures. Failing to do so may result in conclusions being drawn from applications of these estimates to understand changes in alcohol-related health problems that are inaccurate.