Mission Accomplished. Got everything done. Now I get to binge drink through New Year's.
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) December 22, 2016
Twitter user “Comfortably Smug” tidily sums up the holiday sentiments of many of us as we wrap up 2016’s loose ends before checking out until the new year.
While we here at Wonkblog don’t recommend that you “binge drink through New Year's,” there’s no doubt that the holidays have traditionally been a time for boozing it up. Take a gander, for instance, at the total monthly alcohol sales in the United States. If you squint really hard you may detect a seasonal trend — those spikes are December of each year.
We’re not just buying booze during the holidays, of course — we’re guzzling it down, too. Various direct and indirect measures of alcohol consumption, including breathalyzer data, Web searches for hangover relief and alcohol-related traffic deaths all suggest that peak American drinking happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
But who among us is likely to do the most drinking this holiday season? The Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the official federal statistics on the percent of state residents ages 12 and older who drink at least once a month. Here’s a map of how those figures break down by state for the years 2014 and 2015.
New England is home to the nation’s heaviest drinkers — New Hampshire, where about 64 percent of residents age of 12 or older drink monthly, is tops in the country. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut also come in at drinking rates above 60 percent. Hard-drinking cheeseheads in Wisconsin see to it that their home is the only Midwestern state in the top tier of American drinkers.
The next tier of heavy drinking states are all in the northern part of the country. Some researchers posit that there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and latitude — at the country level, alcohol consumption tends to increase the farther you get away from the equator. This could be a function of the potential for boredom and depression during winter months when the nights are long, the days are short, and baby it’s cold outside — for a prime example of this, see recent stories involving alcohol and misconduct among people who live in Antarctica.
But other cultural factors can attenuate this relationship. On the map above, take a look at Utah and particularly Idaho. They’re in the bottom tier of the states for drinking frequency. Utah, where only 31 percent of adults drink in a given month, comes in dead last. This is almost certainly because of the large Mormon populations in those states — 58 percent of Utahans are Mormon, as are 24 percent of people in Idaho. Mormonism generally prohibits the use of alcohol and other drugs.
There's likely a similar religious influence in places Alabama, Mississippi and the other Southern states where drinking is low. Those states have large evangelical Christian populations, many of whom are abstainers.
One interesting thing about American drinking rates is how little they change over time. In all of the United States, the past month drinking rate in 2014/2015 (52 percent) is essentially unchanged from the rate in 2008/2009.
Public health folks typically talk about drinking in terms of how bad it is for you — how we drink too much and don’t tax alcohol enough, and how it's basically killing us. But in the spirit of holiday cheer, I'll close with a reminder that the main reason people drink is because it's fun, as one group of scientists finally discovered in 2016. In most cases, pouring yourself a cold one is associated with roughly a 4 percent boost to your happiness.
I've included a table of the state-level drinking rates below. Enjoy your data responsibly.
|State||Monthly drinking rate, 2008-2009||Monthly drinking rate, 2014-2015|