Inaccuracies in survey reporting of alcohol consumption

Conor Gilligan*, Kristen G. Anderson, Benjamin O. Ladd, Yun Ming Yong, Michael David

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)



Alcohol consumption estimates in public health predominantly rely on self-reported survey data which is likely to underestimate consumption volume. Surveys tend to ask specifically about standard drinks and provide a definition or guide in an effort to gather accurate estimates. This study aimed to investigate whether the inclusion of the term standard drinks with pictorial guide is associated with an adjustment in self-reported alcohol volume. 


A web-based survey was administered with AUDIT-C questions repeated at the beginning and end of the survey with and without the standard drink term and guide. The order in which respondents were presented with the different question types was randomised. Two cohorts of university/college students in NSW Australia (n = 122) and the US Pacific Northwest (n = 285) completed the survey online. 


Australian students did not adjust their responses to questions with and without the standard drink term and pictorial guide. The US students were more likely to adjust their responses based on the detail of the question asked. Those US students who drank more frequently and in greater volume were less likely to adjust/apply a conversion to their consumption. 


This study supports previous findings of the inaccuracy of alcohol consumption volume in surveys, but also demonstrates that an assumption of underestimation cannot be applied to all individual reports of consumption. Using additional questions to better understand drink types and serving sizes is a potential approach to enable accurate calculation of underestimation in survey data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1639
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


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