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American Drinking Habits

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Whether it’s bar hopping with buddies on a Friday night or cuddling up with a good book and a glass of cabernet, America’s propensity to unwind with a drink can often lead to excess. When one drink turns into two, and two to four, those imbibing become increasingly susceptible to health complications and negative impacts on a social and familial level.

Recent reports indicate that nearly 1 out of every 4 people aged 18 or older in the U.S. were active binge drinkers in the past month, and about a third of all driving fatalities are the result of someone having had too much to drink.

With all of the knowledge and campaigns aimed at educating people about the dangers of alcohol, why are these numbers so high? Which states have the top rates for alcohol consumption, and how do these statistics compare with recent years? We evaluated information from a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to understand which factors play a role in America’s tendency for overconsumption.

Recent Drinkers Across the U.S., by State

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Examining the regions in which adults had at least one drink in the past month reveals some interesting divides in the country. The East and Midwest account for the top five populations in which drinking has taken place. Washington, D.C., sits atop the list with over 62 percent of respondents having had a drink in the month prior.

Two states in the Northeast – Vermont and Rhode Island – follow closely behind with 60.6 percent and 59.7 percent respectively. Wisconsin and neighboring Minnesota round out the top five.

Given that alcohol is a common source of comfort when times are tough and that D.C. has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, it’s no wonder the U.S. capitol sits at the top position. Or perhaps it’s the appeal of rooftop bars offering a view of famous landmarks that accounts for this rate of consumption. Vermont’s No. 2 seat could be a result of convenience – the Green Mountain State has the most craft breweries per capita in the U.S. Additionally, Vermont has been classified among the most rural of states and low population density has been linked to increased alcohol consumption.

On the other side of the spectrum, the five states with the lowest percentage of drinkers were almost all located in the South. At least 60 percent of respondents in West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas reported abstaining from drinking in the past month. The state with the lowest number of alcohol consumers, however, is Utah. More than 7 of every 10 adults surveyed did not drink in the past month. In fact, the distinction of having the lowest population of drinkers in the nation is one that Utah has retained since 2010.

Utah’s standing is likely in direct correlation to its largely Mormon population – 60 percent belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – and its stance against drinking alcohol. State law also has restrictions when it comes to spirits. Licensed restaurants require a food purchase with any alcoholic drink order, and most grocery stores only sell low-alcohol beer.

The remaining four states are all home to dry counties – where the sale of alcohol is forbidden in some form – which may very well be the catalyst for the low percentage of drinkers in these states.

Heavy Drinkers Across the U.S., by State

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When looking at states with a high prevalence of heavy drinkers, the results are scattered throughout the country. The top two areas for recent drinkers – D.C. and Vermont – make a reappearance, but have switched places; Vermont has higher-volume drinking.

Over 9 percent of respondents are classified as heavy drinkers – that’s men having more than two drinks per day and women having more than one.

Climate doesn’t seem to play a role in the quantity people drink: Chilly Alaska is third in the nation for heavy drinking (8.8 percent), while tropical Hawaii ranks closely behind with nearly 8 percent. Oregon lands in the No. 5 spot for heaviest drinkers in the country.

Four of the five states with the smallest percentage of heavy drinkers in the country can be found in the Bible Belt where, again, staunch religious beliefs are likely to curb overconsumption. Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Oklahoma actually graced the top five list as well.

But it’s Utah that claims the top spot once more with only 3.3 percent of the population classified as heavy drinkers. Its position on the list speaks to the fact that newer Utah restaurants must employ a “Zion Curtain” – a barrier that keeps children from seeing drinks being made – to eliminate the potential glamorization of alcohol.

Binge Drinkers Across the U.S., by State

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Almost a quarter of Americans aged 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. This type of excessive consumption can lead to numerous health implications, such as neurological damage and alcohol poisoning.

Moreover, the CDC has attached a $249 billion price tag to excessive alcohol use, and 77 percent of those costs are due to binge drinking. Most of this comes from losses in workplace productivity. Which regions of the U.S. are most responsible for this dangerous and costly practice?

In the image above, the areas with the highest and lowest number of binge drinkers are evident. Back in the top position, nearly 23 percent of the population in D.C. are binge drinkers. Since 2011, D.C. has been among the top three states in this category.

The Midwest houses the remainder of the top five – North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska are all states where around 1 in 5 adults reported binge drinking in the past month. Being that Iowa and Wisconsin universities are among the top three party schools according to The Princeton Review, it would be easy to point the finger at college students for the high numbers associated with each state. However, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults aged 26 years and older.

The states exercising the most restraint all have binge-drinking populations under 12 percent. Not surprisingly, Utah is featured here as the third lowest in the nation. But these neighboring states – West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky – comprise the majority of this list. West Virginia has the lowest number of binge drinkers at slightly over 9 percent, but Kentucky doesn’t tally too many more at 11.7 percent.

It turns out that socioeconomic status may be the reason behind these low averages. The CDC reports that household incomes of at least $75,000 see a higher rate of binge drinking, and the latter four states mentioned here are some of America’s poorest.

Alcohol Consumption in the Top- and Bottom-Ranking States

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Compiling the top- and bottom-ranking states within each classification paints a clear picture of the places where alcohol flows more readily. Utah and West Virginia figure prominently within each of the low-percentage areas explored by the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

These consistently low figures, and the fact that alcohol consumption is responsible for countless health problems, are plausibly the factors behind Utah being singled out by a recent federal study as the state with the lowest rate of alcohol-related deaths. West Virginia appeared in similar standing in these studies for years, which could be why there have been recent declines in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the Mountain State.

The District of Columbia is the only location to land within all three high-percentage drinking categories and takes the top spot on two occasions. To prevent the drunk driving that often accompanies excessive drinking, D.C. implemented the SoberRide program, which offers free and discounted cab rides as a safe way home on high-risk holidays.

Vermont and Wisconsin each appears twice regarding their drinking populace. Midwestern and Pacific states account for the majority of those remaining on the high-percentage lists.

Alcohol Consumption for Smokers and Nonsmokers

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The alcohol and tobacco industries are each multibillion-dollar corporations that thrive due to the addictions of their customers. But what percentage of the population is double-dipping into these vices? More specifically, are smokers more prone to excess drinking than non smokers? We crunched the numbers to find out.

Research indicates that nonsmokers are drinking quite a bit less than their smoking counterparts. Regarding heavy drinkers, non smokers are nearly a third less likely to fall into this category than those that smoke. However, the numbers grow when looking at binge drinking, but so does the percentile gap – while 13 percent of nonsmokers can be classified as binge drinkers, over a quarter of smokers earn this label. The easy conclusion that this suggests? Those that smoke also tend to be those that consume higher quantities of alcohol.

Differences in Alcohol Consumption, Based on Gender

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Comparing the drinking habits of men and women produced results with less disparity than many may anticipate.

Men, across the board, are drinking more than women – both in frequency and volume. When it comes to imbibing at least one drink a month, over half of the men in America are partaking. Women don’t fall way behind, though, with 43 percent of the female population drinking at least once a month.

The margin is much tighter when it comes to heavy drinking – men barely edged out women in this category. It’s when binge drinking is involved that the discrepancy is greatest. While 1 in 10 women engage in binge drinking, nearly double the male population does the same.

These numbers may very well account for the staggering difference between the genders in relation to alcohol use disorders (AUD) in the U.S. Of the 16.3 million adults with an AUD, 10.6 million are men. And when we look at the nearly 88,000 annual alcohol-related deaths in America, men account for 62,000 of that total – that’s almost 140 percent more men than women dying due to an entirely preventable cause.

Weaning a Nation off Alcohol

Many times we’re oblivious to the warning signs of alcohol abuse, and sometimes we fear the stigma that comes with alcoholism or the process of seeking help. The path to recovery is out there, but it’s up to the individual to take the first step.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use or dependency (or that of any other substance), Detox.net can help. With varied treatment options to increase each individual’s chances of success, you’ll get the assistance you need to overcome dependency.

Methodology

The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) completes over 400,000 adult interviews yearly, collecting data from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. To calculate our percentages, we used the final weighting variables offered by the BRFSS and CDC. The final weighting variables indicate how many people the respondent represents.

BRFSS is weighted by the CDC to estimates of the noninstitutionalized, adult (aged 18 and older) population for each state. One benefit to having CDC do this for all states is that it ensures a consistent methodology is used for population estimates for all states. One potential disadvantage is that some states feel that their population estimates are not as accurate as they could be.

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