Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wasted in Wisconsin: Drinking deeply ingrained in Wisconsin's culture

Beer for beer and shot for shot, when all 50 states belly up to the bar, few can hold their own with Wisconsin. The sad part is, us Wisconsinites are PROUD of this! This is our NUMBER 1 Problem.

Binge drinking - we're No. 1.
Percentage of drinkers in the population - No. 1.
Driving under the influence - No. 1.

We lag a few states in beer consumption, but we're near the top. With brandy, it's no contest. We put away more brandy per person than any other state. We have a strong claim on the vodka title, too. And often we have no clue how drunk we are. Person for person, we have three times more taverns here than the rest of the country, and we spend twice as much money inside them.

AT&T's online telephone directory lists more bars in Appleton, population 70,000, than in Fort Worth, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; or Sacramento, Calif. Wisconsin's abundant taverns are the setting for camaraderie and celebration, but at a cost: Drinking in bars is strongly associated with drunken driving, research has shown. Study the data, read history or talk to tavern-goers. The message comes through clearly: Drinking isn't just something we do to pass time at the ballpark or Summerfest or a Halloween party. It is, for better and worse, an element that helps define Wisconsin as Wisconsin, part of our identity.

Wisconsin leads the nation in the percentage of people who admit to driving under the influence of alcohol. In only a few states are drivers involved in fatal accidents more likely to be drunk. In 2007 alone, Wisconsin's drunken-driving excess claimed more than 70 lives beyond the national norm. The federal government estimates that alcohol claims some 1,250 Wisconsin lives a year - about 2.7% of all deaths statewide. That's nearly twice the number that die from prostate cancer. Drinking is blamed for scores of deaths from suicides and homicides, and hundreds from falls, strokes and liver disease.

We down more alcohol per person than almost any state not because we drink so much, but because so many of us drink. With relatively few Wisconsinites abstaining, our consumption per drinker is lower than about half the states.