Culturally, Americans are still under the legal limit, but just barely: Fondness for drink has spawned alcohol in powdered form and prompted some to go to great lengths to get their favorite libation. Over the past decade, more people in the United States are cracking cold ones and sipping cocktails, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which recently released its annual national survey on drug and alcohol use. The survey found the portion of drinkers in the U.S. population rose from 46.6 percent in 2000 to 52.1 percent in 2012, an increase of more than 31 million people.
The rise has not been steady: Some years, alcohol consumption was up, others down. Over time, though, America is clearly more in its cups.
Over the same period, rates of heavy drinking and binging have slowly ticked up, which translates to roughly 4 million more heavy drinkers and 14 million more binge drinkers.
Drinking is embedded in American culture, from to the Founding Fathers to professional sports stadiums. As researchers at the State University of New York at Potsdam argue, making, distributing and drinking alcohol is more American than apple pie.
But it's also a serious public health concern. From 2006 to 2010, millions of years were taken off American lifespans and 88,000 people were killed by booze, according to CDC estimates, making excessive alcohol use the fourth largest cause of preventable death in the nation.
While a few glasses can be good for the heart and reduce the chance of stroke, as the Harvard School of Public Health explains, alcohol beyond moderation can wreak havoc on personal health. Heavy drinkers face a staggering array of health risks, along with social consequences from alcohol-fueled violent crime and drunk-driving accidents. It's all highly dependent on who and how much.
On the bright side, Americans can take some comfort in the fact that the U.S. isn't even close to the title of drunkest country in the world.