10 Drinks a Day is a Lot of Drinks!

The Ezra Klein-less Wonkblog makes us feel good about our drinking habits.

The Ezra Klein-less Wonkblog makes us feel good about our drinking habits.  A posting titled, “Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you” has, as you might expect, a chart. This chart:


Even though I’ve cut back of late, almost entirely as part of limiting my intake of carbohydrates to get my weight back to acceptable levels, I’m pretty high up on this chart. Like, ninth decile high.  But, holy crap, even at my all-inclusive island resort vacation worst, I’ve never had 74 drinks in a week! I’m not even sure how it’s possible to have 10 drinks in a day and remain upright, let alone sustain that pace for seven consecutive days.

Yet, it’s apparently real. The post explains:

These figures come from Philip J. Cook’s “Paying the Tab,” an economically-minded examination of the costs and benefits of alcohol control in the U.S. Specifically, they’re calculations made using the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) data.

I double-checked these figures with Cook, just to make sure I wasn’t reading them wrong. “I agree that it’s hard to imagine consuming 10 drinks a day,” he told me. But, “there are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey.”

As Cook notes in his book, the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year. On the other hand, people in the bottom three deciles don’t drink at all, and even the median consumption among those who do drink is just three beverages per week.

The shape of this usage curve isn’t exactly unique. The Pareto Law states that “the top 20 percent of buyers for most any consumer product account for fully 80 percent of sales,” according to Cook. The rule can be applied to everything from hair care products to X-Boxes.

Granting that the medical definition of a “drink” is different from the lay definition—most of us likely pour more wine or booze into our glasses than an official unit—there is some world class drinking going on in the tenth decile.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Gérard Depardieu = 12 bottles of wine per day
    Assuming 1 bottle = 5 drinks

    Gérard Depardieu = 60 drinks per day or 420 drinks per week.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw: I’m pretty sure Gérard Depardieu is full of something other than wine.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Trust me…I’m a professional…and as my yiddish friends would say…these numbers are fakakta.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    I’m a shade above 9th, well below 10th, with 3-4 drinks a day. But this thing should be weight-normed. I’m 6’2″ and clock in at 230. Me having four drinks is not my wife having four drinks. At one drink she’s fun, at four there’d be vomiting and weeping.

    What’s weird is that according to online calculators (and shouldn’t we trust everything we see online?) I would not even be legally impaired. Needless to say, I never drive on more than two drinks with a meal consumed over the course at least an hour. But apparently I could.

  5. JKB says:

    It’s not the drunkenness that will do you in most time. It’s your liver. When my brother ended up in the ER, the doc got him to finally admit his two drinks an evening was really 10 oz or so of whiskey. That’s 10 drinks by the official equivalencies . He was dead 16 weeks later. And not a drop of alcohol for those 16 weeks. Not really a good way to die. Others end up stopping with better livers, some last long enough to do rehab and qualify for the transplant list. But it takes years of professional level drinking but your liver will get you in the end.

  6. JKB says:

    Although recent research advises drinking at the 8th percentile or bottom of the 9th for health (2 drinks a day)

  7. Pete S says:

    Now I have a source when I tell my wife “See, I don’t drink that much”….

  8. DrDaveT says:

    Of course, these percentiles are for Americans. The shape of the curve is rather different in different countries, and the scale of the curve is rather different in different countries. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side of the US, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan…

  9. steve q says:

    i went several years drinking 10-12 drinks a day. And in those days, I could easily pass for sober after 6-7, because my tolerance was so high. Now I’m down to about 7 a day.

  10. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Put me in the bottom decile. The boozahol makes me ill. Living in WA, however, you can put me in the 10th decile for mediweed.

  11. Jeremy says:

    @James Joyner: Best OTB comment I’ve seen yet.