This Is the Drunkest County in America

This Is the Drunkest County in America

October 15, 2021

How bad a problem is heavy drinking in America? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 16% of adults engage in binge drinking. Another 7% report heavy drinking. The health effects are profound. Among the short-term effects are car accidents. Among the longer-term problems are high blood pressure, cancer and memory problems.

Drinking levels vary considerably by state. The states with the most severe problems are in the Upper Midwest and Plains states. They include Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa.

Each year, alcohol abuse is directly linked to diseases and accidents that kill an estimated 95,000 Americans. Excessive drinking also costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually, mostly in lost productivity.

It is also possible to measure drinking by county. Using data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR), a joint program between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, 24/7 Wall St. identified the U.S. county with the highest excessive drinking rates. In every county we considered, more than one in four adults drink excessively, while nationwide, fewer than one in five do.

The counties we examined were ranked on the share of adults who either binge drink or drink heavily. CHR defines binge drinking as consumption of more than four drinks in a single occasion for women and more than five drinks for men, while heavy drinking is defined as more than one drink a day on average for women and more than two drinks a day for men.

It is important to note that alcohol affects everyone differently, and as a general rule, drinking less is better than drinking more. Additionally, the vast majority of Americans who drink excessively (about 90% of them) do not have a severe alcohol-use disorder, a chronic disease commonly referred to as alcoholism.

The drunkest county in America is Outagamie County, Wisconsin. Here are the details:

  • Adults binge or heavy drinking: 31.0%
  • Driving deaths involving alcohol: 32.0% (tied for 993rd highest of 3,081 counties)
  • Median household income: $65,572 (436th highest)
  • Adults reporting poor or fair health: 13.7% (259th lowest)

Of the 3,220 counties or county equivalents, 3,142 had boundaries that fell within one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Counties with a 2019 five-year population estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau of less than 1,000 were excluded.

The remaining 3,106 places were ranked based on the excessive drinking rate. Additional information on the share of driving deaths with alcohol involvement and the share of adults who report fair or poor health is also from the 2021 CHR. Median household income data are five-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.

Note that the CHR report is from 2021, but drinking rate figures published in the report are from 2018.

Click here to see all 50 of the drunkest counties in America.


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