How Much Do You Drink? Liar!

Are you lying about how much you drink or just grossly underestimating? It’s pretty much going to be one or the other for the average person writes Keith Humphreys at New York Mag’s Science of Us blog:

One of the enduring mysteries of alcohol research is that when you tally up all the booze that people report consuming when they are surveyed about their drinking habits, it rarely adds up to even half of the alcohol sold.  So either we pour half of the liquor we purchase into the sea (could this be the origin of the phrase “drank like a fish”?) or we tend to forget — or intentionally lie about — how much sauce we imbibe. A clever new study in the journal Addiction provides clues about who is worst at owning up to the full extent of their drinking.

Alcoholic beverages montage

The researchers surveyed over 40,000 people with standard alcohol survey questions about their quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption — “How many drinks have you had in the past month?” and so on. But in a smart twist, they then asked a more immediate question: “How many drinks did you have yesterday?” This method is useful for detecting under-reporting because of the improbabilities it reveals.  For example, if 50 percent of people who say they drink once a month acknowledge drinking yesterday, one can infer that this group is severely under-reporting their consumption: If they were truly once-a-month drinkers, only about 3 percent should acknowledge drinking on a particular randomly selected day of the month.

Men and women were comparably good (or bad, depending on your perspective) at accurately reporting their drinking. But a large difference emerged when types of drinkers were compared. As the chart below shows, the most accurate reporters were those who drank the most. Putatively low-risk drinkers grossly under-reported, acknowledging only about one in four of their actual drinks consumed. The heaviest drinkers recalled their consumption most accurately, but in absolute terms they still only reported about half of it…

[continues at New York Mag’s Science of Us blog]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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32 Comments on "How Much Do You Drink? Liar!"

  1. emperorreagan | Jun 9, 2014 at 8:35 pm |

    I usually drink anywhere from 2-6 drinks when I drink and may drink anywhere from 0-3 days per week.

    If a survey asks for a number instead of a range, I’m going to pick near the bottom of the range. It’s a habit I picked up in college, where an honest number would land you a semester’s worth of alcohol counseling when you got caught with open containers, vandalizing things on campus, etc.

  2. Number1Framer | Jun 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm |

    I’m at 4-10 drinks, one night a week. It’s something of a weekly art studio ritual where I cut all the demons loose to play and they let the ideas flow in exchange. I don’t really ‘casual drink’ and feel like 15 drinks in a week is way too much, but it’s at the low end of the spectrum this study uses. I guess I’d rather get it all out of the way at once and drink with purpose than drag it out over 4 or 5 days of being in a light daze. Lol

  3. Had to quit drinking during the week cuz I was getting gout. Now I only drink on weekends. Will usually have three to four drinks Fri., Sat., and Sun. evenings.

  4. Based on my easily “at-risk” drinking and the use of a BAC tracker, I have a few observations:
    -A “standard drink” in the US is 14g of alcohol
    -Almost zero drinks meet this standard, the vast majority being over
    -Beer and wine ABVs vary wildly and many don’t bother listing it
    -It’s harder to count liquor drinks: no cans or bottles leftover, mixed drinks are invariably more than one drink, and most shotglasses are over 1.5oz

    • Number1Framer | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:50 pm |

      Craft beers can really get you on the ABV values. Some Belgian ales easily top 12-15% and come in wine bottle-sized corked containers that must be finished once opened or you’re dumping a stale $15 down the drain the next morning (hell, you can’t WASTE it now, can you?). I’m thinking of you Delirium Tremens and Piraat Ale, you gnarly bastards…

  5. jimpliciter | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:13 pm |

    A bottle of wine a night.

    • Rhoid Rager | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:25 pm |

      your five hearts must thank you

    • Tuna Ghost | Jun 10, 2014 at 7:44 am |

      same. With a quart of grapefruit juice, though, because it provides a lot of help to your liver when it comes to processing alcohol. Give it a try.

  6. Rhoid Rager | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm |

    the methodological flaw is that it doesn’t include enemas

  7. Rhoid Rager | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm |

    when i could freely smoke weed, my drinking dropped down to 1-2 days a week, but now that i am restricted from smoking weed (dangerous in japan), i drink almost everyday, 3-4 drinks. on binge days (once or twice a week) it’s 7-10 drinks. alcohol is a wretched, life-destroying drug. america seiously fucked japanese society over by forcing industrialization on them in the 1800s and then banning the weed here after WWII.

    • jimpliciter | Jun 10, 2014 at 12:01 am |

      Yep. If obtaining the herb wasn’t fraught with such rigmarole
      and illegality I’d make the switch at the drop of a hat. Alcohol is a shitty
      alternative- hence the bottle an evening.

    • Without access to cannabis, I have a much higher proclivity to drink. I’ll have one drink with a meal maybe 10-15 days in a month, with maybe another 2-3 days in a month drinking something harder than beer or wine.

      Americans well know the power of alcohol as a weapon of mass destruction, especially when it’s the only readily available analgesic.

    • Jin The Ninja | Jun 10, 2014 at 1:27 am |

      in a 12 month period- i have, on average, 2 bottles of sake to my name, probably split with my other half in some fashion. love the taste, but i completely abhor drink otherwise. but if i didn’t have the greenherb, really don’t know how i’d cope.

      • Rhoid Rager | Jun 10, 2014 at 1:36 am |

        i overindulged in sake when i was first learning japanese and getting into the culture in my early 20s, and that put me off of it since then. occasionally i’ll have a couple of sips of the fancy sake my father-in-law keeps in the cupboard, but that’s my limit. funny, really, because i still have a taste for vodka even tho i inhaled screwdrivers for a several year period a couple of years ago.

  8. Anarchy Pony | Jun 9, 2014 at 11:07 pm |

    Nada, except when I go to restaurants.

  9. misinformation | Jun 10, 2014 at 12:04 am |

    I generally ‘stretch the truth’ (or perhaps diminish it). I’d say 4-6 drinks per night, for some years – typically west coast USA-style IPA beer.

    I suspect, if I didn’t eat so well, I’d be shitting out several internal organs by now (not that that is a science based result from over consuming alcohol). I subscribe to the notion that, once I’ve started, if I’m awake and it can intoxicate me, may as well keep going.

    It’s not a lifestyle I recommend nor condone. I think about and fail to quit every single day.

    • Rhoid Rager | Jun 10, 2014 at 7:18 am |

      Good to stick to the IPA. If you start hitting the hard stuff, like vodka, gin or tequila, you’re phuct. psilocybin told me to get off the vodka by hinting at an impending liquid demise. it was a weird feeling.

      • misinformation | Jun 10, 2014 at 10:09 am |

        Yea. Perhaps since I don’t vote, this is my opportunity to use the “lesser of two evils” fallacy 😉

        Funny thing is, as per your posts, I actually HAVE ready access to both cannabis and psilocybin. But everything about my lifestyle right now, screams ‘drink’!

        At least that is the destructive voice that I’m hearing.

        • emperorreagan | Jun 10, 2014 at 11:02 am |

          If I had ready access to both cannabis and psilocybin, I would drink a nice scotch maybe once every couple months and an occasional fancy beer.

  10. VaudeVillain | Jun 10, 2014 at 2:21 am |

    Damn, I thought I had a reasonably high alcohol intake, but if you guys are serious I might as well be a teetotaller. I’m somewhere in the 2-3 beers every other night range… some weeks more, others less.

  11. Echar Lailoken | Jun 10, 2014 at 2:37 am |

    I haven’t had a drop in approximately 2 years. Before that there were times I’d drink before the weekend to prime myself and drink the whole next day. Good times! Honestly, I can’t say I miss it all that much. A good hefeweizen or hoegaarden or two wouldn’t be so bad, maybe a tumbler of burbon here or there. I do miss the herb though. Toke one for me, when you get a chance.

  12. InfvoCuernos | Jun 10, 2014 at 3:28 am |

    I am shocked at the fact that people would lie on something so important as a scientific poll! Don’t they understand how much weight is put on their answers? This could skew all kinds of advertising!

  13. Ted Heistman | Jun 10, 2014 at 11:21 am |

    the recycling bin tells the real story!

  14. Man…I feel like a wuss. I average about a beer and a shot once a week…with rare exceptions where I might do more. I don’t even smoke green the way I used to when I was 20ish. I do a lot of ladder work when I’m painting…and I like a clear head to keep my balance. On the brightside, when I do indulge its always top shelf, single malt whiskies or Guinness/Newcastle Brown…so I smile from ear to ear every time I have a sip…but I seem to be lagging behind the average for quantity.

    • Matt Staggs | Jun 11, 2014 at 1:35 pm |

      I really like beer, but haven’t had a taste for it in months. I’ve never been a big drinker, or smoker for that matter.

  15. MJ Darling | Jun 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm |

    I don’t lie about how much I drink, so I assume Keith Humphreys is projecting his lying on me.

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