Risky Drinking Behaviors: report by Gundersen Health System shows levels of alcohol use in La Crosse Co.

Wisconsin ranks second in the country in terms of drunkest states

LA CROSSE COUNTY, (WKBT) – It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people in Wisconsin like to drink alcohol, but there’s a fine line between having a drink and drinking too much.

Wisconsin ranks second in the country in terms of drunkest states.

Data shows nearly 25 percent of adults in the state reported heavy drinking in 2018.

According to County Health Rankings, nearly 27 percent of adults in La Crosse County reported excessive drinking that same year.

The La Crosse area is filled with a culture where drinking alcohol is the norm.

“Sometimes, what seems socially normal and acceptable may snowball into something that’s dangerous,” Gundersen Health System psychiatrist Neil Brahmbhatt said.

La Crosse County has a history of high alcohol use.

Organizations like Gundersen Health System are educating the community about risky alcohol use to hopefully reduce high rates of alcohol consumption.

“Any behavior that’s putting yourself in jeopardy,” Brahmbhatt said. “I think that is what I think about when I think of risky.”

Gundersen has published four reports about risky alcohol use, the most recent in 2017.

College students and adults in the county drink the most.

According to the study, 68 percent of college students reported drinking alcohol in a month-long time span. About 35 percent of college-aged kids reported binge drinking.

“There’s this social pressure and a need to feel welcome and fit in in a certain group and a certain place, especially at a time when you’re starting college and you’re like finding your identity,” Brahmbhatt said.

Brahmbhatt says college students need to realize they can fit in without having to go out and binge drink.

“That’s really important,” he said.

The study also says about 28 percent of adults in La Crosse County binge drink. That’s lower from Gundersen’s 2015 report, but still higher than the national average.

“There is more opportunity for adults to drink more steadily on a frequent basis,” Brahmbhatt said. “I think that in the college setting, it lends itself to more binge drinking, just by virtue of the culture.”

Brahmbhatt says college and drinking don’t have to go hand in hand, but changing the drinking culture takes time.

“There has to be a shift and a collective effort in wanting to do it, and making it a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

Heavy alcohol use can lead to deadly consequences, but that’s less likely to happen when people don’t let it get out of hand.

“Just really that self-care is so important, and your mindset going into any of these situations,” Brahmbhatt said.

The study shows about 11 percent of high school students in the county already binge drink, which is down about 9 percent from 2010.

About two percent of middle schoolers say they drink excessively.

There’s no data on it yet, but Brahmbhatt thinks the pandemic will make the drinking epidemic worse.

According to a 2019 report from the Population Health Institute, binge drinking costs the state money too — about $4 billion annually.

Pepin County ranks among the highest excessive drinking counties in the state and nationwide — 29 percent of adults say they excessively drink.

Great Rivers 2-1-1 is a great resource to contact if you’re struggling with alcohol.

Below is the PDF link to Gundersen’s report.

Burden of Risky Alcohol Use Report FINAL