Where one lives impacts spending on housing, groceries, health care and, apparently, alcohol. Americans in some places are drinking more heavily than in the past. In fact, researchers from the University of Washington are reporting that rates of heavy and binge drinking have escalated dramatically in many areas of the country.
This is not the first study to show alcohol consumption has increased. It is up more than 17 percent in the past 10 years, with rates rising faster for women than men.
What is new here is the comprehensive, county-by-county examination by the University’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to determine where consumption of alcohol is more prevalent and problematic in the U.S. The data released today in the American Journal of Public Health shows that some counties stand out with more than a third of residents binge drinking and more than 20 percent consuming booze heavily. It shows that 8.2 percent of adults over 21 in the U.S. were considered to be heavy drinkers and 18.3 percent could be called binge drinkers. The information in the new study that shows Americans are drinking more in some places is from 2012.
While they are often labeled as “cheeseheads,” it turns out people in parts of Wisconsin also engage in heavy drinking. The research found the highest rates of binge alcohol consumption in Menominee County, Wisconsin. Binge drinking is defined as downing at least five drinks for men and at least four drinks for women on one occasion.
By contrast, Madison County in Idaho had the lowest levels of binge drinking in 2012. The binge-drinking rate there was the country’s lowest at 5.9 percent.
Cultural and economic differences play a huge part in explaining some of the differences. Problem drinking is generally most common in poor and rural areas. Wisconsin’s Menominee County is home of the Menominee Indian Reservation and a lot of poverty. The community actually has an annual sobriety powwow. Conversely, Madison County, Idaho, is heavily Mormon, which explains the low alcohol consumption rate.
When it comes to heavy levels of imbibing, Esmeralda County, Nevada, recorded the largest proportion of heavy drinkers (over 22 percent). On the flip side, data for Hancock County, Tenn., which is deep in the Appalachian Mountains, showed that only 2.4 percent of the adults there could be called heavy drinkers. Generally, “heavy” is defined as over two drinks a day for men and more than one daily drink for women,
Overall drinking, which is categorized as adults who have at least one alcoholic drink each month, is noticeably highest in communities that are affluent with well-educated people. The top one was Falls Church, Va., where 78.7 percent of adults who are of drinking age do (at least monthly), and several counties in Colorado, including Summit and Pitkin, which encompass the ski resort areas around Aspen and Breckenridge.
The study should prove invaluable in helping communities address areas with any obvious problems. Public health efforts like the Wisconsin powwow and legislative ones, like limiting the number and operating hours of bars and liquor stores, could be the result.
“When you can map out what’s happening county by county, over time,” noted IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray, “and for men and women separately, that’s also when you can really pinpoint specific health needs.” He also suggested that the information on the places where Americans are drinking more would help design health policies and programs tailored to areas where they are needed.
By Dyanne Weiss