It's the Bermuda Triangle of liquor: The amount of alcohol people report drinking doesn't even match up halfway with the amount of alcohol that's actually sold. So what gives? Where does all that booze really go?
Down our palates—we're just bad at self-reporting data. Or we're lying, according to a new study published in the journal Addiction.
Researchers surveyed more than 40,000 people about the quantity and frequency of their drinking. The survey included standard questions ("How many drinks have you had in the past month?") but also asked, "How many drinks did you have yesterday?" The idea behind this question, according to the Science of Us, is that it detects under-reporting by revealing improbabilities: If half the people who claim to drink only once a month answer that they had a drink yesterday, researchers can infer that they're probably lying about the true amount they drink—if they were truly once-a-month drinkers, most of them wouldn't really have had anything to drink on a randomly selected day of the week.
While there was no difference between men and women, the researchers found a large difference when they compared different types of drinkers. Low-risk drinkers (up to 15 drinks per week for men; 10 for women) underreported by 76 percent, only admitting to about one in every four drinks they had. Medium-risk drinkers (up to 30 drinks weekly for men; 20 for women) underreported their drinking by 62 percent. High-risk drinkers (30+ drinks weekly for men; 20+ for women) were actually most accurate in their reporting but still only reported about half of their true alcohol consumption.
In addition to the fact that this seems to indicate people either don't know how much they're drinking or are choosing to ignore their true levels of alcohol consumption, this could also have troubling implications for research, and it could mean that we don't know how much alcohol is actually healthy for you—or at what level it becomes detrimental to your health. Plus, as the study author told Science of Us, “We hope these findings encourage people to pay more attention to how much they actually drink. Knowing the dose of alcohol you regularly put in your body can, literally, be a matter of life and death.”
What do you think of this study? How much do you drink per week? Comment below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!