Why Malt Liquor Consumers Drink More Often

Man Drunk at Bar

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Malt liquor is not your average beer. Typically malt liquor beverages have a higher percentage of alcohol content, are sold in larger containers, and are sold at a lower price per volume than the average beer.

Compared to a standard drink, the typical malt liquor beverage is off the scale. A 12-ounce malt liquor beer can average 40% more alcohol content than a regular 12-ounce beer. Forties (40-ounce malt liquors) contain 4.7 times as much alcohol as standard drinks.

Because malt liquor represents a quick, cheap alcohol buzz, marketing for these beverages has been traditionally targeted at lower-income, minority communities.

One study found that people who regularly drink malt liquor are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, or on public assistance compared to regular beer drinkers. The study also found they also tend to drink more alcohol and drink more often than individuals who drink other types of alcohol.

Consume More Alcohol Per Drink

"Measuring malt liquor beer consumption is difficult because malt liquor beers differ from other beer beverages in two important aspects: container size and alcohol content by volume," said Ricky Bluthenthal, assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and corresponding author for the study above.

"We found that the combination of these differences resulted in the average malt liquor drinker in our study consuming 80% more alcohol per drink than the average regular beer drinker. Although we did not report consequences in this paper, typically the more alcohol consumed the greater the probability of negative alcohol-related consequences for an individual and their community."

Increased Risk of Problems

"Malt liquor beers can be sold in containers as large as 40-ounce bottles, or 'forties' as they are referred to," said Rhonda Jones-Webb, associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. "'Forties' are commonly sold chilled and wrapped in brown paper bags for immediate consumption, and independent websites devoted to malt liquor as well as rap lyrics and movie scripts encourage 'chugging' the bottles before they get warm. The combined effects of higher alcohol content, larger serving size, and faster consumption can result in higher blood alcohol levels, an increased risk of aggressive behavior, and other alcohol-related problems."

One study examining the effects of policies that placed restrictions on the sale of malt beverages in California found a slight reduction in crime in locations where these restrictions were enforced.

A similar study on urban areas, including Washington D.C., also found a correlation between legal restrictions on single container high-alcohol malt liquor and the reduction of crime rates.

A Sign of Masculinity?

Jones-Webb said that marketing for malt liquor beers is largely targeted at African American and Hispanic youth, and young adults.

"Malt liquor brands such as Steel Reserve, Hurricane, Magnum, and Panther are used by the alcohol industry to connote power and machismo and lure youth and young adults into the market.

Rap artists have been popular images in malt liquor advertising, and 'gangsta' rap performers portray malt liquor as a sign of masculinity.

The targeting of minority youth for malt liquor sales is of particular concern because alcohol advertising has been shown to influence the brand choice, and brand choices during youth can influence beverage choices as adults."

South Los Angeles Study

To find out more about malt liquor drinkers, Bluthenthal and his fellow researchers went to the streets conducting face-to-face interviews with 329 drinkers recruited from randomly selected alcohol outlets in South Los Angeles.

The investigators gathered information on the drinkers' sociodemographic characteristics, alcohol use history, drinking patterns, and drinking context.

"Based on previous research," said Bluthenthal, "we know that malt liquor beers, because of price per volume and availability, are likely to be more attractive to lower-income drinkers. In addition, advertising and popular culture references to malt liquor beers are more prevalent in media that are likely to be seen or used by African Americans. In short, South Los Angeles seemed to fit the profile we needed."

Malt Liquor Drinking Patterns

The sub-sample that reported drinking in the previous 90 days (n=297) was 88% African American, 72% male, and 35% unemployed.

Overview of Malt Liquor Drinkers

Compared to regular beer and hard liquor consumers, malt liquor beer drinkers were:

  • More likely to be homeless
  • More likely to receive public assistance for housing
  • Less likely to be employed
  • Reported significantly higher rates of daily or near-daily drinking
  • Reported more drinks per day on drinking days
  • Reported higher daily average alcohol consumption
  • More likely to smoke while drinking
  • More likely to drink with same-sex friends
  • More likely to drink outdoors

Drinking More Hazardous Amounts

"The drinking levels we observed among malt liquor beer consumers were on average higher than the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals who are entering alcohol treatment programs," said Bluthenthal. "The study also confirms that malt liquor beers are consumed in potentially more hazardous amounts and settings than regular beers and that grouping malt liquor beer drinkers with regular beer drinkers are likely to result in underestimates of alcohol consumed among malt liquor beer drinkers as well as the consequences of this consumption."

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drink size calculator. 2021.

  2. Bluthenthal RN, BrownTaylor D, Guzman-Becerra N, Robinson PL. Characteristics of malt liquor beer drinkers in a low-income, racial minority community sample. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005;29(3):402-409. doi:10.1097/01.ALC.0000156118.74728.34

  3. Calvert C, Joshi S, Erickson D, et al. Effects of restricting high alcohol content beverages on crime in CaliforniaSubstance Use & Misuse. 2020;55(3):481-490. doi:10.1080/10826084.2019.1686020

  4. McKee P, Erickson DJ, Toomey T, et al. The impact of single-container malt liquor sales restrictions on urban crimeJ Urban Health. 2017;94(2):289-300. doi:10.1007/s11524-016-0124-z

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.