Photo by Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Under-reporting Alcohol Consumption in Surveys – How Common and by Whom?

One problem with studies using self-reporting methods is that there is often a sense of under-reporting when it comes to how much people will admit that they drink.

This is a common issue with self-reporting type studies, and it is assumed that all individuals under-report by the same amount.

To confirm or refute this assumption, a group of Canadian

Photo by Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
researchers aimed to determine whether or not under-reporting is equal among groups, or if there are differences when it comes to age, gender, or consumption levels.

Surveying Canadian citizens between 2008 and 2010 (43,371 participants total), the researchers determined drinking frequencies for each participant and compared these data to actual sales data.

Important findings:

  • Alcohol consumption was under-reported somewhat equally between men and women.
  • Spirits consumption was under-reported by ~66%.
  • Wine consumption was under-reported by ~38%.
  • Beer consumption was under-reported by ~49%.
  • Alcohol consumption was under-reported significantly more by underage drinkers versus older drinkers.
  • Alcohol consumption was under-reported significantly more by low-risk drinkers versus high-risk drinkers.

Overall, this study shows it’s safe to assume that everybody pretty much under-reports their alcohol consumption habits, though there are some group-specific differences. While there were no difference between men and women, there were differences in relation to age and in relation to consumption levels.

In other words, younger drinkers tended to underestimate their alcohol consumption to a higher degree, possibly because they didn’t want to risk getting in trouble if they were underage. Finally, those low-risk drinkers tended to under-report more often than high-risk drinkers.

Source:

Stockwell, T., Zhao, J., and Macdonald, S. 2014. Who under-reports their alcohol consumption in telephone surveys and by how much? An application of the ‘yesterday method’ in a national Canadian substance use survey. Addiction 109: 1657-1666.