Thursday, May 19, 2016

We're #1! We're #1!

As most readers of this feature know, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton is in the news today for a particular reason:
A new list of the “Drunkest Cities in America” puts a perhaps unwelcome spotlight on Wisconsin, which is home to 12 cities in the top 20, ranked by the highest rates of binge drinking in adults.

The findings were compiled by online financial news outlet 24/7 Wall St.
And look what city comes in first?
Wisconsin outdrinks any other state, results showed. Our neighbor to the east boasted seven of the top 10 “Drunkest Cities,” including the top four: Appleton, Oshkosh-Neenah, Green Bay and Madison.
Why do people in Wisconsin drink so much? It's nothing particularly new. My people are of Bavarian and Irish ancestry and drinking is part of the culture; a lot of people in Appleton have similar ancestry. Downtown Appleton has bars galore on the main street, College Avenue, and in my youth I spent plenty of time downtown. Appleton is also, by and large, a fairly prosperous community, and young people have disposable income and opportunity to go out and party. If you look at the list, nearly every non-Wisconsin location is a college town.

So what does it mean? Well, the story mentions something in passing that I think is especially significant:
The group analyzed self-reported data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Excessive drinking, concentration of bars and alcohol-related driving deaths all were contributing factors in determining America’s drunkest cities — all but two of which are in the Midwest.
Emphasis mine. People drink in Wisconsin. Sometimes they drink a lot. I think people in Wisconsin are simply more honest about how they go about it -- there is no particular stigma to drinking in the state; you don't have a lot of people who are teetotalers. If you grow up in Wisconsin, none of it seems very unusual. This bit from the comedian Lewis Black is spot-on. It's also, without question, NSFW.

I'll be back in Appleton over the weekend for my stepbrother's memorial service. I would imagine we'll have a few beers as well. It's the way we roll.


Brian said...

Joke from my southern Bible Belt roots: What's the real difference between a Methodist and a Baptist?


The Methodist will say "hi" to you at the liquor store.


I suspect (though I don't have time or inclination to drill into methodology to be sure) that this list demonstrates the problem with the common working definition of "binge drinking". 4/5 drinks in "one sitting" is awfully imprecise. If I grill out on a summer afternoon, crack a beer at 4 pm, and have one every hour or so while cooking, eating, and chatting with friends until the sun goes down, I'm technically "binge drinking" even though I can assure you my BAL probably never gets over a 0.03% the entire time.

Similarly, in places where the neighborhood tavern is still a part of the culture (like Wisconsin, to its credit, as well as much of the PacNW), whiling away an afternoon or evening over beers and then strolling home just isn't that big of a deal.

If you want to see people *drunk* en masse, go to big cities and/or tourist hellholes. NYC, New Orleans, Vegas, South Beach. (Or college towns, obviously.) That's qualitatively different from what's going on at the corner bars of the midwest, at least in my experience.

Bike Bubba said...

Just for giggles, I took a look at DUI and drunken driving deaths for California and Wisconsin. Would you believe that in Wisconsin, the proportion of traffic deaths due to alcohol is actually lower, and the # of DUI arrests scales approximately with the population?

But if you talk to Californians, they'll tell you that Midwesterners drink a LOT.

And Brian, you're not quite binge drinking--Mayo defines it (I would assume per standard) as > 5 drinks in 2 hrs or less. Getting a lot of calories from that beer and perhaps giving your liver a bit of a workout, but the definition's a bit tighter than you'd been told.

Mr. D said...

What's the real difference between a Methodist and a Baptist?


The Methodist will say "hi" to you at the liquor store.

Ha! Love that!

And I completely agree with your remarks on what constitutes "binge drinking." If you have a few beers but don't become impaired, it's hard to see how that is problematic, so long as you don't make a habit of doing it every day. The term "binge" is meant to be pejorative, rather than descriptive.

Brian said...

Bubba: I prefer Mayo's definition, myself, if only for its lack of ambiguity...but the CDC (and a lot of others) use the "one sitting" one. Wrongly, in my opinion.

Mr. D said...

Thanks for providing the Mayo definition, Bubba. I agree with Brian that it's a significantly more useful definition of the term than what the CDC uses.

Bike Bubba said...

The one thing I can say in defense of the CDC definition is that damage to the liver from processing alcohol would definitely progress with the amount you drink. That said, I'd agree that the Mayo definition better addresses the consequences of drunkenness and alcoholism. And I'd bet liver damage isn't just a linear function of consumption, either.

Mayo has a pattern, FWIW, of quietly dissenting from the CDC and USDA. For example, the "Mayo Clinic Diet" modifies the old food pyramid by putting fruits and vegetables at the base instead of grains, and eliminates dairy as its own food group--and does this when Rochester is surrounded by corn fields and dairy farms. Pretty remarkable IMO.

Bike Bubba said...

One more note; here's the CDC on this.

and it's not new, either. Apparently all the way back to 2004:

Maybe someone's mistranslating what the NIH/CDC have to say?

R.A. Crankbait said...

I think that when drinking is viewed as something "you get away with" it is more likely to be abused. A lot of teen and college-age binge drinking is young people going hog-wild when they have access to alcohol typically denied to them. Needless to say, someone unaccustomed to drinking is also going to be unaccustomed to how alcohol affects them and also deluded as to their ability to handle it.

One can argue if there is a truly "responsible" use of alcohol or not, but de-mystifying it seems to de-fang it's cachet, and while most folks tolerate the use of alcohol by others to varying degrees, no one thinks being drunk is admirable or funny (at least not since Foster Brooks and the Dean Martin roasts).

In Europe, drinking at younger ages is not as restricted and is "socially acceptable" (speaking from first-hand experience). Their drunk-driving laws are the most prohibitive you'll find anywhere, though. In the Czech Republic (pardon me, "Czechia" now) you can lose your license with a BA level of .003, which is basically what you'd get from cough syrup.

Bike Bubba said...

You would have the forbidden fruit, and also the effect of a lot of hard liquor. Problems in Europe are least where they drink wine and highest where they drink hard liquor, if I remember right.

Kim Hunter said...

Interesting post. It is cool and unique to hear your side, as someone living in Wisconsin, on the subject of heavy drinking. I think you make a great point as to why there are a lot of drinkers: ancestry and the crowd that is drawn in. Having a lot of youth with a disposable income really makes for many drinkers.

Kim Hunter @ KHunterLaw