SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Shipments of hard liquor fell last year to the lowest point since an industry survey began in 1970, a development attributed to Americans' new love of health and fear of addiction.

With only a few individual ups among the downs, sales of distilled goods fell 4.2 percent last year, to 159 million cases in 1988 from 166 million cases in 1987, the trade publication Impact reports in its current edition.

Liquor sales last year were 2.5 percent below the 163 million cases shipped in 1970, the first year Impact began its industrywide survey. A case equals nine liters.

Industry experts have blamed the new American abstemiousness on a variety of factors: growing health consciousness, the aging of the baby boom generation, the powerful campaigns in recent years against drunken driving and intoxication by alcohol and drugs.

In the late 1970s, some in the industry hoped hard liquor sales would rise as the baby boom generation grew out of beer and wine. Instead, distaste for drinking appears to be drying up sales of all alcoholic beverages.

Total wine consumption in this country dropped to 552.2 million gallons in 1988, down 28.7 million gallons, or 4.9 percent, from the previous year, the industry publication Wines & Vines reported last month.

Beer sales, too, were flat, registering a negligible rise to 2.4 million cases in 1988.

Impact blamed the decline in sales of distilled goods on ''the cumulative effects of federal, state and local tax increases on spirits and the continuing pressure on the entire alcoholic beverage industry from anti- alcohol forces.''

Studies indicate consumers drink less as they age, Impact said.

Distillers, their profits drained by declining sales, slashed total advertising budgets last year by more than $100 million, to $240 million, Impact said.

Makers of so-called ''white goods'' - vodka, gin, rum and tequila - could toast some sales gains.

Vodka, at 38 million cases distributed last year, was reported the biggest- selling distilled spirit in the country, far ahead of the 21 million cases sold in 1970. Gin ran a poor second in 1988 with 14 million cases. Rum, with 13 million cases in 1988, advanced 7 million cases over 1970.

Whiskeys took the biggest whipping, a challenge distillers regarded as extremely grim as they look for ways to recruit new customers to replace aging whiskey sippers. It's estimated people over 50 years old account for half the sales of whiskeys, called ''brown goods'' in the trade.

Sales in the whiskey segment, including bourbon, blends, Scotch, Canadian and Irish, declined 43 million cases, to 60 million cases, between 1970 and 1988. Bourbon was the biggest loser, dipping 19 million cases from the 36 million figure in 1970 and skidding 6.3 percent between 1987 and 1988 alone.

Ralph Hallquist, a vice president of the top-selling bourbon, Jim Beam, said, ''We're reaching younger consumers who are interested in a new taste experience. Our focus is (consumers) who are ready to make a move.''

The biggest loser from 1987 to 1988 was Scotch, dipping by 8.8 percent to 13 million cases.

But even as they spurn hard liquor, drinkers demonstrate there's still commercial value in the snob appeal of a beverage like single-malt Scotch. The leading single-malt Scotches, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, advanced by 130,000 and 75,000 cases, respectively, between 1987 and 1988.