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Milwaukee, not Vegas, America's drunkest
Cutting Alcohol's Cost
Milwaukee, not Vegas, America's drunkest
It will come as no surprise that the residents of a city known as "The Nation's Watering Hole" like to have a beer or two.
But Milwaukee isn't just your average brewing town. It's the hardest-drinking city in America, according to Forbes.com's ranking of America's Drunkest Cities.
To determine the rankings, we started with a list of the largest metropolitan areas in the continental U.S. Thirty-five candidate cities were chosen based on availability of data and geographic diversity.
Each city was ranked in five areas: state laws, number of drinkers, number of heavy drinkers, number of binge drinkers and alcoholism. Each area was assigned a ranking in each category, based on quantitative data, and all five categories were then totaled to produce a final score, which was sorted to produce our rankings. (Click here for the complete methodology.)
Milwaukee ranks high for its drinking habits across the board. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey 2004, more than 70 percent of adult Milwaukeeans reported that they had had at least one alcoholic drink within the past 30 days the highest percentage on our list. Twenty-two percent of Milwaukee respondents confessed to binge drinking, or having five or more drinks on one occasion--also the highest on our list. And 7.5 percent of the population were reported as heavy drinkers adult men that have more than two drinks per day, or adult women who have more than one drink per day.
High percentages of alcohol consumption and abuse can translate into serious trouble for a city, including increased public health costs. (See "Cutting Alcohol's Cost.")
Milwaukee has long had a reputation as a city built on beer. It was once the nation's top beer-producing city, home to four of the world's largest breweries: Schlitz, Pabst, Miller and Blatz. Legendary sitcom characters Laverne and Shirley fixed bottle caps on one of the city's assembly lines. Even the name of the town's baseball team The Brewers alludes to its boozy past. Today, Miller Brewing, now a subsidiary of SABMiller, is the only major brewery left in town, but other major corporations call the city home, including Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton and Manpower.
just such a stereotype," says "Lips" LaBelle, longtime afternoon DJ on 94.5 FM WKTI. "Milwaukee has so much to offer, and I hate to see it painted in that light. I don't think [alcohol abuse] is any worse here than in any other city." Perhaps the city's wide and varied summer activities are driving up the alcohol numbers, he suggests Milwaukee is also known as "The City of Festivals."
Or, there could be another explanation. "It's cold here, and we need our brandy," says LaBelle.
Coming in second on our list is another chilly metro: Minneapolis-St. Paul. The twin cities ranked No. 2 for adults who reported having had a drink in the last month, No. 3 for binge drinkers and No. 12 for heavy drinkers.
Rounding out the top five drunkest cities are Columbus, Ohio; Boston; and Austin, Texas.
Curiously, several towns with a reputation for partying and drinking didn't rank very high on the list. You might be able to score a free cocktail in any Las Vegas casino, but overall, the city comes in at only No. 14. New Orleans is home to Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, but it only ranked in 24th place. And spring-break party spot Miami placed all the way down at No. 33 of 35.
Of course, just because a city ranks high on the list doesn't make it a den of debauchery. A top-drinking town could be populated by grandmas who imbibe a glass of wine every night to keep their heart healthy. And just because someone tips back a few beers doesn't make them irresponsible.
But it's a safe bet that nobody's going thirsty in Milwaukee.
Cutting Alcohol's Cost
Businesses spend big bucks on both the little, addictive wireless e-mail gadgets and programs that screen for and treat problem drinkers. Both make back the cost of investment. But searching for alcohol abusers brings in $2.15 for every dollar spent, compared to a mere $1.62 for keeping workers connected with Blackberrys. In fact, just by surveying employees and offering counseling sessions of 30 minutes or less, employers might be able to put a big dent in the $35 billion that excessive drinking adds to health care coverage annually, according to the George Washington University researchers who came up with the comparison.
What is striking is that the GWU researchers don't recommend counseling only alcoholics, who require years of treatment, but also people who aren't addicts but simply drink too much.
"Since there are so many more people who drink in hazardous or harmful amounts, about 60% of the costs of alcohol to society are from people who are not dependent," says Eric Goplerud, who heads an alcohol abuse program at GWU called Ensuring Solutions. "There are people who drink even though they have sore stomachs, or drink and get into a fight and get hurt or engage in unprotected sex."
Each year, alcohol abuse costs the United States an estimated $185 billion, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But only $26 billion, 14% of the total, comes from direct medical costs or treating alcoholics. Almost half, a whopping $88 billion, comes from lost productivity--a combination of all those hangovers that keep us out of work on Monday mornings, as well as other alcohol-related diseases. People who drink too much and too often are at greater risk for diabetes and several kinds of cancer, according to some studies.
"Alcohol is a worthless drug that affects every single cell in your body," says Harris Stratyner, director of addiction recovery services at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Even hair transplants can fail because of the damage, he says.
Many alcohol-related health troubles are more immediate--and are delivered with a crash, a thud or a bang. Half of the trauma patients in emergency rooms got there because they hurt themselves after drinking. Drunk driving only accounts for $6 billion worth of motor vehicle accidents, but it causes a third of car crash deaths--resulting in the loss of 13,000 lives per year. The professions where people drink the most include construction, agriculture and manufacturing--all fields that involve a lot of dangerous, heavy machinery.
The toll from all the psychiatric effects, injuries and other alcohol-related problems: 85,000 deaths a year. What about those purported health benefits of wine? They top out at no more than five drinks a week for men, and two for women. Among people under 34, those who do not drink actually live longer.
Nearly 17 million Americans have a serious problem with alcohol, but only 3 million ever seek out any kind of help. That doesn't count those who should probably cut down some, but whose alcohol use hasn't developed into a full-blown problem. Yet Goplerud sees great reason for hope--and he's not raising the specter of prohibition. (History shows that most of us will not stop drinking entirely.)
What Goplerud suggests is to give all employees a simple questionnaire to identify those who are overindulging. Ninety percent of crack users will lie about their drug use, as will just about all users of methamphetamine or PCP. But people who drink are more honest, and a simple questionnaire will turn up 80% of those who have problems.
Then, for most, treatment is simple. Of those 17 million problem drinkers, 8 million are alcoholics. For others, a simple counseling session can work wonders. One study showed that if people who had injured themselves in alcohol-related accidents were approached about their drinking by a doctor while they were still in the hospital, they were less likely to become injured again.
For those who are dependent, the outlook is bleaker, since scientists understand so little about addiction. Yet many are still helped by treatment. The most recent medical advance that may help alcoholics is Vivitrol, a once-a-month shot produced by Cephalon (nasdaq: CEPH - news - people ) and Alkermes (nasdaq: ALKS - news - people ) that reduced the rate of drinking by 25%, compared to placebo and counseling. Few patients in the study were able to abstain completely.
But it is exactly because treatment is so difficult that many advocate intervening earlier--and potentially reaping big economic gains. Says Stratyner: "We could save billions."
Problem drinker data from Alcohol Cost Calculator for Business ,
2005; Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, The George Washington
University Medical Center.