The high cost of binge drinking in Wisconsin
Most people who drink socially don't like to being described as "binge drinkers."
Even when they may fit the definition.
It seems Wisconsin's hard drinking reputation is making news once again with the release of a new report, "The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin," from the Wisconsin Public Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
The study released Tuesday reports that public costs from excessive drinking in the state has a whopping total of $6.8 billion, which was arrived at by combining costs from drunken driving arrests, loss of worker productivity treatement for alcoholism, incarceration, heatlh care and even premature death.
The price tag even includes all those mangled fenders and bumpers caused by drunken accidents.
It's an eye-opening figure that researchers hope will convince private residents and public officials that maintaining the state's hard drinking reputation may be taking too big a toll in ways more than just drunk drivers or bar fights.
Julia Sherman of the Wisconsin Alchohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School said the report proved the dramatic costs of binge drinking across the state.
"This report proves beyond any doubt that our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol is a drag on Wisconsin's growth and a drag on Wisconsin's economy," Sherman said at a press conference announcing the report.
"Our businesses carry the brunt of these costs. Families are crippled by healthcare costs, treatment costs and lost wages," she said.
According to the report, Wisconsin has the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the naton, with 25 percent of residents over 18 years old admitting to an average of nine drinks during one sitting.
For the purposes of the report, binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks at a sitting for men and four or more for women.
The idea of tying the results of binge drinking to an economic cost was meant to prompt lawmakers and health policy officials to better understand all of the ramifications of drinking as more than just an individual health issue but also a public policy issue.
The report calculated the $6.8 billion cost of binge drinking in Wisconsin comes out to about $1,198 for each Wisconsin resident. That's in comparison to the $70 million collected in state revenue for alcohol taxes. In other words, taxing alcohol doesn't do near enough to make up the difference.
Recommendations from the researchers on how to curb binge drinking included taking more steps to educate the public and urging lawmakers to take concrete actions designed to attack the problem. Some proposals included raising age limits for drinking across the state to a uniform standard, establishing sobriety checkpoints and increased alcohol taxes.
In previous years, groups like the Tavern League of Wisconsin have always fought any suggested reforms for legal drinking in the state that could have impact on business revenue. But the focus on binge drinking seems a reasonable step in the journey toward less alcohol abuse in a state where a hard drinking legacy has been ingrained in some folks for decades.
Basically, it's another attempt to get Wisconsinites who love their two or three (or four or five) drinks at home or out at the tavern to understand their personal drinking habits could be costing all of us.
One person's binge is another person's typical night on the town and that might just be the problem.
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