Congratulations, Wisconsin! You're the hardest-drinking state in the union, according to a report released Thursday by the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Twelve percent of cheeseheads drank heavily in 2012, barely edging out Vermont for the title. You might ask what it means to drink "heavily." For the purposes of this report, women who drank more than one drink per day, and men who drank more than two, are considered heavy drinkers. This may seem *really* low to some of you, but it's in line with how the killjoys at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define it.
Montana, the District of Columbia and Iowa round out the rest of the top five. By contrast, the nation's most responsible drinkers are found in Utah -- only 5.2 of that state's residents drank heavily in 2012. West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma round out the bottom five. (I put the numbers for all states in a table at the bottom of this post.)
The real innovation of the report is that also provides county-level drinking estimates, based on years of responses to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual national survey administered by the CDC. So you can now find out exactly how much you and your neighbors are hitting the sauce in your county! I've mapped heavy drinking rates for all residents, men and women, below.
Americans tend to under-report alcohol consumption. This report attempts to correct for some of that, but the authors still write that these numbers should be thought of as a floor, not a ceiling.
The report finds that overall, heavy drinking among Americans rose more than 17 percent between 2005 and 2012. Binge drinking -- consuming more than five drinks on one occasion -- is up, as well. These two measures are salient from a public health standpoint because they're more closely linked to negative health outcomes than the prevalence of any drinking overall.
"Binge drinking tends to increase the risk of short-term health effects (e.g., injuries)," the study authors explain, "whereas heavy drinking tends to increase the risk of long-term health effects (e.g., cancers, liver cirrhosis)."
Nationally, 8.2 percent of Americans are heavy drinkers. And 18.3 percent indulge in the occasional binge. It may not surprise you to learn that men are more likely to do both. Men are twice as likely (24.5 percent) to binge drink as women (12.4 percent). And they're 50 percent more likely (9.9 percent) than women (6.7 percent) to be heavy drinkers.
But women are starting to catch up on both measures as social norms shift. "We found that increases in heavy and binge drinking prevalence in recent years have tended to be larger for women than for men, although women have not yet caught up to men in terms of current prevalence," the authors write.
Flat overall drinking rates combined with increased prevalence of heavy and binge use are about what you'd expect, given that booze is historically cheap. Cheaper alcohol wouldn't have much of an effect on the drinking habits of a person only inclined to drink a few times a week, but it makes does make it more affordable to drink heavier for people with a tendency to do so.
It's worth pointing out here that the overwhelming majority of heavy and binge drinkers aren't alcoholics, and don't have a drinking problem -- only about 10 percent of either group meet that criteria, according to the CDC. And it does seem odd that a woman who has a glass of wine with dinner every night would be considered a "heavy drinker" by the CDC's measure. Roughly 30 percent of Americans drink that much, by one estimate.
And overall, American drinking rates are considerably lower than many other countries in the world.
|State||All residents||Women only||Men only|
|District Of Columbia||10.8||10.1||11.4|