Many Americans Don't Drink Alcohol

April 27, 2015 Kira Lesley

Nearly one-third of adult Americans do not drink alcohol at all. Furthermore, another one-third of adult Americans consume less than one alcoholic drink per week. These figures from a Washington Post article astonished me; far more Americans don't drink alcohol or very light drinkers than I had realized.

The Reasons Americans Don't Drink Alcohol

I've been in alcohol recovery for eight years, and most people I hang out with don't drink. In fact, I'm so accustomed to talking with people in substance abuse recovery that I forget there are other reasons someone might not drink alcohol. A few weeks ago, I was at a conference and when I heard one of my fellow classmates didn't drink, I immediately assumed he was in alcoholism recovery. When I asked him about it, he responded that he did not drink because he is Mormon.

This had never even occurred to me. But the truth is, I have known people from various religions or non-religious people who choose not to consume alcohol. My best friend from childhood drank a little bit in college, but it didn't appeal to her and now she doesn't. Another good friend of mine chooses not to drink because she doesn't like to feel out of control. I also know health conscious folks who abstain from alcohol because they feel the negative health effects of alcohol outweigh the possible positive ones.

Most Americans Drink Less Alcohol Than You Think

About 33% of Americans don't drink alcohol. It might not feel this way to alcoholics, but if you're an American who doesn't drink alcohol, you're not alone. According to statistics from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), 30% of American adults don't consume alcohol. Of those that do drink, the median number of drinks per week is three. The mean average is misleading because the actual data is very lopsided: the top 10% of Americans drink on average 74 alcoholic drinks per week--over 10 a day. This means that many Americans drink little or nothing, but those folks on the high end of the spectrum often binge drink and hit the bottle--or can--hard.

Drinking Little or No Alcohol is Normal for Americans

In 2013, 43.6% of Americans over age 18 reported drinking no alcoholic beverages in the past month, according to NESARC data. Furthermore, 29.3% drank no alcohol in the past year. I'm not here to tell anyone they drink too much or that their drinking is abnormally high, but I think it's important for those of us who have given up alcohol to realize we are not alone.

I never thought of alcohol as something you could take or leave. To me it seemed people either didn't drink or it was a huge part of their lives. But then again, I am not a moderate person in general. I can't just smoke an occasional cigarette, now and then, for example: I'm actively addicted or I'm abstinent. I now know that living with little or no alcohol drinking is a perfectly viable and acceptable way to live. When we are in our addiction, we tend to surround ourselves with people who drink or use like us. That is why it sometimes feels like we are the only ones who are clean and sober. In fact, those of us in addiction recovery are in good, and expansive, company.

You can find Kira Lesley on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Lesley, K. (2015, April 27). Many Americans Don't Drink Alcohol, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Kira Lesley

Nancy Hurst
November, 7 2022 at 6:57 pm

I was drinking one or two glasses of wine a week. It made me relaxed and pleasant. However, after watching the effects of alcohol on the brain in a You Tube video, I decided I would stop drinking all together. That was two months ago. I keep having this desire to buy a bottle of wine and go back to my one or two drinks a week. I definitely miss it, and am irritable and jumpy. But, I'm on a health kick of no drink and healthy eating. It is getting harder and harder not to resume drinking my one or two drinks a week even though its not a lot. I don't want anything to have power over me.

October, 15 2022 at 4:09 pm

I personally don't drink (haven't since I turned 22). I binge drank frequently 15 - 21. I had a blast & have a lot of great memories (spotty & blurred memories, but still great). Then I turned 22.
1) The consequences of drinking (hangovers, stupid choices, calories, ect) came into focus
2) I was satisfied. I had all those life experiences I wanted. Anything more was just rehashing a better previous experience
I gave up alcohol completely. I have never once even been tempted to drink again. Conceptually it's boring to me & the threat of a hangover makes me actively disinterested. People frequently assume I don't drink because Im in recovery & are always shocked to learn that no; I actually just got bored of alcohol

December, 26 2021 at 10:52 pm

I don’t drink at all and I don’t like going to bars with “friends” sitting there watching these idiots blow $20 on booze and tips. It’s not even a little fun which is why I rarely go.

August, 28 2022 at 11:03 am

Wow, Lizzy, you sound just like me! I hate bars and drinking parties. I wish there were more people like us. I engage in a lot of adventurous activities (skydiving, scuba diving, mountaineering, etc.), and working out is an essential part of my life. But of my friends who engage in such activities, I'm the only one I know who doesn't drink. I experimented with alcohol as a teenager but eventually decided it's not for me. I've never liked the taste, and except for the initial buzz, I don't care much for the overall feeling it gives me. When I first started drinking, I could hold down a half bottle of vodka, but with more experience, I started getting sick on as little as four beers. It also had an adverse effect on my athletic performance. I've known many good athletes who drink like fish, but I could never drink and then work out the next day. Even a couple of beers will sap my energy levels for most of the next day. On top of it all, I really like to think clearly, and being buzzed ruins that.

February, 10 2019 at 10:35 am

I'm 56 years old and haven't had a drink in 4 years. I wish I quit drinking years ago. It's quite and adjustment but that is because excessive alcohol consumption is a maladjustment, and it takes several years to normalize your thought patterns. There may be many ways to quit drinking. To each his own,, but 12 step recovery works for me.

November, 23 2018 at 7:21 pm

I think the biggest thing is America has a very strange drinking culture that is rather foreign to everyone else. In other countries alcohol is not something that is vilified or help up, it is just something that accompanies the evening meal and loses much of its mystique. People here get the work done for the day and then binge drink. The rest of the world sips while they work and there is a major rejection to the all or nothing approach common in America. This is why in Europe we have small children drinking wine with their dinner... it is just a part of culture and food, it is not this thing you are restricted from since childhood and then go crazy over the minute you taste freedom.

Susan March
January, 5 2023 at 9:40 am

Hey JM - your statement perpetuates the myth that in Europe they somehow magically have less of a problem with drinking because they "allow" their kids to drink "moderately." But this is a myth.
"Not only do youth in the majority of European countries report a higher prevalence of intoxication, they are also more likely to report intoxication before age 13. This is especially important since the younger youth begin using alcohol, the more likely they are to develop dependence and other problems.
As expected, most European youth have higher rates of alcohol-related problems because of their heavy drinking."
This article references reports from a number of science-based organizations.

Lawrence Dickerson
July, 12 2018 at 6:08 pm

I have never drank anything with alcohol in it. 66 years old and yes grew up in the sixties. I also have never did any drugs except when prescribed. Had a high school friend tell me it must be depressing that this is as good as I am going to fee all day. I had 2 brothers that fought with addiction and a 3rd brother who is bipolar. l have never understood the concept of "a high" except to be high on happy. Proud Grandfather of 9 so I admit to having 17 Kids......Happy to hear the company I am in.

May, 30 2018 at 10:50 am

As an older gentleman, I have observed many relationships and found that any stimulant be it alcohol or “other “ drug is simply not conducive to a successful relationship.
Having noted mood aides either supply you with temporary bravery, or allows you to become something that you’re really are not.
In my opinion it is most important to be whom you are as you do with meeting a new coworker, your building supervisor, or anyone that has the appearance of a person you may wish to know better, on some level you know that you don’t have to “ impress” to gain friendship.
I also genuinely believe that being yourself in any situation will prevail.

Sober man
May, 20 2018 at 8:16 pm

I've never even tried alcohol and the thought of even trying alcohol has never crossed my mind. I honestly do not understand why anyone drinks alcohol or even smokes or takes any drugs. Growing up we were not even allowed to drink soda. Coffee and tea are also bad for you. Why would anyone drink things that are bad for them?

May, 6 2017 at 3:46 pm

I never drank very much (~2 drinks per week), but I stopped drinking entirely last year because I realized that I was only consuming alcohol to feel normal. I don't actually like it, it always makes me feel a bit sick, and it's expensive. Here's what I found interesting: when I stopped drinking entirely, people around me started drinking less. We would have a couple of people over for dinner and go through three bottles of wine, and now the same people come for dinner and we go through 1 or 2 at most. I was never drinking a whole bottle, and nothing else has changed except there's a person at the table having sparking water or ginger ale instead. I think this is really interesting and powerful. A couple of months ago a friend who is trying to quit realized that I wasn't having anything when we were out at the bar, and said that he wouldn't have anything either. This guy normally drinks like a fish. So if you're not that into drinking, you can act as an anchor for people who struggle when you choose not to drink. I get far more enjoyment out of that than out of a glass of wine.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mark Squires
December, 30 2017 at 10:44 am

That's well written. I have also found that if you don't use foul language, people that know you will naturally use less around you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 17 2020 at 12:42 pm

I stopped drinking ten years ago because, like you, I realized I was just doing it for cultural reasons, and really did not enjoy it. And like you, I have observed that people around me drink less because I do not. What irritates me a bit is that people assume at my age (60's) you don't drink because you are a recovering alcoholic, have a dire medical condition, or are a Mormon.

May, 19 2016 at 11:59 am

I hope it's okay to respond to this since I drink (1 drink almost every day and this consists of either 1.5 oz of rum mixed w/ 10-12 oz of Diet Pepsi or 1 12 oz beer). (For the record, I'm 70 years old and prior to retirement 18 years ago, I drank 3-4 drinks per week. When I was in college I drank a lot more than that, but stopped when I graduated and entered the workforce). I have always considered myself a moderate drinker and am not so sure about this after reading a number of articles about consumption of alcohol among US citizens.) According to statistics, I definitely drink more than the average person in the US. I don't look askance at those who don't drink or wonder why they abstain. However, I don't appreciate it when people who don't drink for religious reasons proselytize and attempt to impose their beliefs about alcohol on me. (I live in the South.)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
May, 29 2016 at 5:27 pm

Hi Suzan,
Thank you very much for your comments. It is interesting to me because I live in a place where people drink a lot and production of alcoholic beverages is a big part of the economy and, increasingly it seems, the identity. I have not spent enough time in the South to know what that's like, but I think it's unfortunate and unhelpful when anyone judges, especially if it's not coming from a place of genuine concern.
It can be difficult to tell from the averages alone, but one of the things I found interesting about the articles I read for this piece was that consumption seemed to be at extremes. The people who consume the most alcohol in America consume a lot of it, and then a lot of people don't drink at all. But as for the amount that you drink, I am not a professional but it seems to me the most important thing is not the volume per se (though that can be a useful indicator) but how it is affecting you. Certainly some people can drink in moderation, or they can take it or leave. Then for others, it begins to interfere with their lives. If you are concerned, you could talk to your health care professional about some sort of assessment. But if it does not create any problems for you (physical, psychological, emotional, etc.) then it's certainly not my place to pass judgement on you, or anyone else for that matter! Thank you for sharing your insights, and you are certainly welcome to read and comment whether you are an alcoholic/addict or not!

March, 2 2016 at 4:10 am

No drinking for over thirty two years. Drank a lot before. Only one or two people in my family drink. I know it is often viewed as a disease if you do not drink. I have found just the opposite that fun, and anything I choose do I can do without drinking. It seems like people view themselves as sick and deficient so they are somehow in need of medicine. The booze is like medicine and used to make up for the perceived sickness, failure of belief that it will fix things. I do not take medicine either and use the placebo to just keep myself in great shape and also imagination works well to move along and is free. Watch out you do not imagine yourself in to a troublesome trap as some do.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
March, 6 2016 at 11:41 am

Hi David, and thank you for your comments. Congratulations on three decades of sobriety! That is very inspiring for many of us. I know a lot of people who do not take any medication at all. I personally do, although I'm very careful about it and won't take anything that feels triggering.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 5 2018 at 9:45 pm

David. Sorry I just read this and can I say thank you. I am currently in deep thoughts about stopping drinking (6-8) beers and small mj use every night ( night only ) now I do have cluster headaches ( look up if you want ) but I know now that searching for cure of my headaches I got sicker with the "medicine"
Your deep message was a breathe of fresh air that I can speak with when I become sober.

January, 19 2016 at 9:26 am

I don't drink at all I've never had the desire too but a lot of my friends who do drink look at me like I told them I eat human flesh
And people on Facebook say I'm a moron for not wanting too drink well this site shows that a lot of people don't drink at all

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
January, 21 2016 at 10:55 am

Matthew, thank you very much for your comments. I know what you mean about people looking at you like you're crazy. I was surprised by these statistics myself. It just goes to show we can't take the reactions of a few people around us as indicative of how the whole country feels!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Karlee Harley
January, 23 2018 at 5:20 am

Great informative article.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 18 2018 at 6:40 pm

No you are not a moron at all! But those who think you are weird because you do not drink are the fools! those who do not drink are wiser and stronger than those that do.

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