How Much Americans Have Been Drinking (Almost) Every Year Since 1850

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Alcohol consumption in the U.S. reached a 30-year high in 2020. The per capita ingestion of ethanol (drinking alcohol) was 2.45 gallons that year – a 2.9% increase from 2019, and the highest rate seen since 1990. By census region, the largest increases were seen in the Midwest (4.2%) and the South (3.5%). (These are the states where people drink the most alcohol.)

While pandemic stress and lockdowns may have influenced the recent rise, alcohol consumption has peaked at various points in history. Using data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 24/7 Tempo reviewed per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. every year since 1850. Years are ranked by the total gallons of ethanol consumed per resident aged 15 and older prior to 1970 and population aged 14 and older thereafter. There is no data between 1920 and 1933 due to Prohibition. 

Although 2020 consumption peaked at 2.45 gallons per person, the two decades between 1968 and 1988 saw the highest drinking rates on record, with rates each year equivalent to or exceeding 2020 numbers, peaking in 1981 at 2.76 gallons per person. During this period, liquor consumption reached highs not seen since the late 19th century, when spirits made up the vast majority of ethanol ingested in the U.S.

A trend of increased beer consumption began in the 1970s, and continued into the ‘80s. While beer still dominates the alcohol market – with spirits a close second – wine consumption has been steadily growing since 2009, reaching the highest rates on record in 2020. (Here are some of the best wine bars in America.)

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