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Drinking In America

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A glass of wine with dinner. A beer while watching TV. For many people, drinking the occasional alcoholic beverage is simply a way to relax. But crossing the line into serious alcohol abuse can up the odds for negative results, including health issues, family problems, violence, drunk driving accidents, and even suicide.

We analyzed America’s alcohol consumption from 2011 to 2013 to compare men’s and women’s drinking habits (including binge drinking) across different states and examined how factors such as age and race affected drinking. Check out these interesting (and in some cases sobering) statistics.

Northerners Consume More Alcohol Than Southerners


percentage of drinkers

A glance at this map reveals the percentage of adults in each state who drink (specifically, who have consumed at least one alcoholic beverage within the past 30 days). If you had preconceived notions about club-hopping Californians or beer-guzzling Texans, it’s time to put those aside.

Topping the list of drinkers is Wisconsin, where a little more than 65% of residents enjoy imbibing. As famous for its breweries as it is for its cheese, Wisconsin has a deep-seated tradition of drinking. Some blame lenient alcohol laws (minors can consume alcohol in bars and restaurants if accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian, at the bartender’s discretion), the abundance of bars and taverns, and lax drunk driving laws.

Closely following Wisconsin is Washington, D.C. (65.03%), where wine is the drink of choice. D.C. residents have no shortage of nightlife opportunities, ranging from swank bars to dance clubs. Rounding out the top five are three New England states: Vermont (64.47%), known for its abundance of craft breweries; New Hampshire (64.07%), where residents pay low state liquor taxes; and Massachusetts (64%).

Unsurprisingly, Utah is home to the fewest imbibing adults: Less than 30% of residents drink. Presumably, this is due in part to the fact that the prominent religion in Utah (under the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon church) forbids its members from consuming alcohol. Drinks are also harder to come by, as grocery and convenience stores sell only low-alcohol beer and no wine or liquor.

Southerners also make sobriety a priority, based on the statistics. After Utah comes West Virginia (32.57%), Tennessee (37.87%), Mississippi (39.80%), and Alabama (40.50%). The Bible Belt has some strict liquor laws (such as dry communities), and some prevalent religious denominations (including Southern Baptist) frown upon alcohol consumption.

Heavy Drinking Happens in the North and the West


percentage of heavy drinkers

Defined as men drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day and women drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day, heavy drinking can up the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.

As you can see from this map, heavy drinkers are found in some of the states mentioned above, including Wisconsin (8.7% of residents are heavy drinkers), Washington D.C. (just more than 8%), and Vermont (7.63%). Newcomers to the top five list include Montana (7.93%) and Oregon (7.7%).

A rural state with lingering traces of the Wild West, Montana has long had a reputation for lenient alcohol laws, with bars serving cocktails in to-go cups and open containers permitted in vehicles until 2005. Suds rule for Oregonians: Home to the most craft breweries in the country (as well as several wineries and distilleries), Oregon offers ample opportunities to imbibe.

The states’ home to the lowest number of heavy drinkers include many of the same mentioned above: Tennessee (3.43% of residents are heavy drinkers), West Virginia (3.77%), Utah (4.03%), and Mississippi (4.5%).
The new addition to the list is Oklahoma (4.77%), where beer that contains more than 4% alcohol must be sold at room temperature.

The Midwest is the Binge Drinking Belt


percentage of binge drinkers

Chugging a six-pack during the game. Drinking glass after glass of wine. While these scenarios may not sound alarming, binge drinking (defined as men consuming five or more drinks on one occasion and women consuming four or more drinks on one occasion) can cause major problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 17% of Americans binge drink. And it’s estimated that about half the alcohol consumed by Americans is consumed while binge drinking. Binge drinking is more common among young people – but when older people binge drink, they do so more often. It’s believed that various factors affect the rate of binge drinking in a state, including local customs, local laws, religious affiliations, and the presence of universities (which draw young people).

The Midwest has the dubious honor of being dubbed the “binge drinking belt.” Four of the top five states for binge drinkers are Midwestern: Wisconsin (24% of residents binge drink), North Dakota (23.9%), Iowa (22.17%), and Illinois (22.13%). Claiming the third spot is Washington, D.C. (23.5%).

Once again, Southerners (and Utah) are last when it comes to consuming alcohol. The states with the lowest percentage of binge drinkers are Tennessee (10.3% of residents binge drink), West Virginia (10.5%), Utah (11.83%), Alabama (12.4%), and Arkansas (12.83%).

 Older People Drink Fewer Drinks but Drink More Often


habits of a heavy drinker

Drinking habits vary greatly by age. On average, as people get older, they drink more often in any given month. Presumably, younger people may go out to drink with friends on weekends, while older people may sip wine after work on weeknights.

In the same vein, as people get older, they drink fewer alcoholic beverages on a single occasion. While a young person may knock back a few too many out at the above-mentioned bar, an older person is more likely to stop after a drink or two.

Race Affects Drinking Habits Too



Explore the GIF to discover how age and race play a role in drinking. Each color represents a race (American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Multiracial, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Other, or White). The size represents the average number of drinks consumed per day in the past 30 days.

Drinking Peaks at Certain Times During Life


heavy drinkers

The graph reveals that drinking peaks at age 21 and then continues to decrease as people age. However, small peaks appear near decade marks, including at ages 30, 40, and 50. A major peak hits at age 52, and then it declines again until a small peak at age 60.

Alcohol consumption decreases as people age, and binge drinking decreases even more dramatically, especially during the elderly years.

For young adults, binge drinking presumably offers a way to socialize with friends, assert coolness (for instance, by guzzling drinks in competition with peers), and simply fit in. For older people, binge drinking likely is a way to relieve stress (about work, family, or other pressures).

People Who Drink Heavily Are More Likely to Binge



Binge drinking is more common among people who already reach for a bottle fairly often. Among people who are heavy drinkers (more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women), 72% are also binge drinkers. Among people who are light drinkers, only 20% are also binge drinkers.


Help for Binge Drinkers

Maybe you’ve had a bad day and need to relieve stress, or perhaps you just want to cut loose with friends after a busy week. But ask yourself if drinking excessively is really worth the risks. Because when you binge drink, you could be risking your health, your relationships, your reputation, your career, and perhaps even your life.

Over time, consistent heavy drinking – binge or otherwise – can lead to the development of alcohol tolerance and dependence. Furthermore, the process of detoxing from alcohol can involve an uncomfortable, and even dangerous period of withdrawal – making the thought of getting sober that much more daunting for many.

If you’re struggling with a drinking problem, and are apprehensive about alcohol detox and withdrawal, know that it can be accomplished – and is advisable to do so – safely and comfortably with medical supervision. Call [phone-number-only] to speak to a treatment support specialist about alcohol addiction treatment – including the availability of medically supervised detox or supervised withdrawal as part of your journey to sobriety.


The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) completes over 400,000 total interviews in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories.

The BRFSS uses a technique called raking, which is a weighting method that takes into account education level, age group, marital status, and geographical region to estimate the non-institutionalized, adult population for each state.

Using the BRFSS data to determine alcohol consumption in the United States, we determined state-by-state drinking habits broken down by gender, age, and race.

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