Your State May or May Not Be Binge Drinking By Your Side

I think the first time someone told me that binge drinking was defined as over four drinks for women in one night, I was already past my limit.

The sort-of-good news is that nobody’s judging, even if I am caught sleeping in my underwear on top of the sheets. Binge drinking is actually kind of an American pastime right now, according to the Center for Disease Control. The CDC describes the high levels of binge drinking in the U.S. as “a dangerous and costly public health problem,” and it turns out it’s “a bigger problem than [they] thought.”

The CDC recently sought out data on who is binge drinking, as well as how many other people are, how often they’re doing it, and where they live. Here’s some stuff they learned:

+ Income group that binge drinks the most often and drinks most per binge: less than $25,000
+ Most alcohol-impaired drivers binge drink.
+ Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics.
+ More than half of the alcohol adults drink is while binge drinking.
+ More than 90% of the alcohol youth drink is while binge drinking.

But they dug even deeper, and located the states with lots of binge drinkers: 

There is something of a binge drinking belt across the north of the country, running westward from New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Alaska ranks high too, suggesting that long, cold winters might play a role, though tropical Hawaii is in the top tier as well.

This is the map they created to illustrate the “binge drinking belt,” and show you a state-by-state comparison of how many people are binge drinking in the melting pot:

And here’s how many drinks people are buying there, too:

Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander looked into the study further in search of correlations and found that extroverted liberals are livin’ la vida loca:

Binge drinking is more common in liberal states, those voted for Obama in 2008, and it is negatively associated with states that voted for McCain (with correlations of roughly .3 and -.3 respectively). Binge drinking states are also more “extroverted.” The correlation between extroverted personality types (one of the “big five” personality traits identified by psychologists) and binge drinking is .3.

Binge drinking is also more prevalent in more affluent states (the correlation with economic output per capita is .3). This is in line with the CDC’s own finding that the income group with the most binge drinkers is those making more than $75,000. Binge drinking is also higher in more educated states, with a correlation of .36 to the share of adults who are college grads. Both are in line with national patterns I charted last year, which found even stronger associations between alcohol consumption and economic output and human capital. Although I should also note that the CDC found that the income group that binge drinks more often (as opposed to the sheer number of binge drinking participants) and drinks the most per binge is those making $25,000 a year or less.

Still it may come as some surprise that binge drinking is more prevalent in states whose socio-economic profiles would seem more in line with latte sipping than brewski chugging.

At the same time, the fact that some aspect of excessive binge drinking has been assigned to opposite income groups, one could suggest that what the CDC found out was that Americans just drink a lot. Period.

Last year, a Gallup report found that “one of the most significant predictors of alcohol consumption is church attendance. Those who seldom or never attend church are substantially more likely than more frequent church attenders to say they drink; and those who have no religious identity, Catholics, and non-Christians are more likely to drink than Protestants.” How does the Pew Forum’s map of religious service attendance compare to the Binge-Drinking map?

Gallup also has some interesting data about what kind of alcohol people drink broken down into different demographic groups.

Anyhow, alcohol sales have remained steady throughout the recession, unlike just about everything else. Binge drinking is generally a bad idea, and may cause embarassment, endangerment, the purchase of one to three Domino’s pizzas with or without cheesy breads, and a need to spend the next day asleep and/or watching Netflix. It can also kill you or people around you. At the very least, you’ll get a serious hangover and need to wash your hair.  But we keep on at it. I guess sometimes you just wanna let go.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


    • Second day in a row we feature in posts here. Brings a tear to my eye, really.

      Also, I realize I sound very much like part of the problem, but, uh…four drinks, really? What span of time are we defining as “one night”?

  1. I’m completely unsurprised that North Dakota ranks high on this list, given that I live in the Canadian province above it. Manitobans are some serious drinkers, y’all

  2. California has a surprisingly weak showing in those maps, which is pretty much the exact opposite of my experience in this state.

    • At first I was surprised too, then I rememberd that I have a lot more friends who would rather get really high than get wasted.

  3. Combine these statistics with the most lesbianish city statistics and you, Autostraddle, are seriously helping me decide which US universities to apply to/cities to live in for graduate work. The formula goes as follows:

    (Highest Degree of Lesbianism) + (Highest Amount of Binge Drinking) + (Least amount of Religious Attendance) + (Reputation of University) = Best Choice University (weighting of each category: 50/30/15/5 respectively)

    Everything is pointing me to Chicago.

  4. Ugghh..Not you too, Autostraddle..I am so sick of people judging me about my “binge” drinking… They come in six packs for a reason!

  5. I am intrigued that Utah ranks as one of the lower states for binge drinking, but among the highest in drinks bought…Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be, since the drinks are much weaker in Utah than in surrounding states.

  6. Hello. I am a Minnesotan, and I binge drink… twice a year. Wait, was that four drinks per night or per hour? I may be drunk now. Could the CDC please conduct a study to let me know?

  7. The definition of binge drinking is so weird. Like, if I drink 4 drinks starting after dinner and ending at 2am, I’m binge drinking but I’m probably not even drunk. However, if I take 3 shots in 5 minutes, I’m not binge drinking but I’m probably passed out.

    This is what five semesters of college statistics has taught me.

  8. Somehow Ohio’s standing does not surprise me at all, sadly.
    Also, I wonder if they have any way of looking at the amount of large college campuses as well as binge drinking because I feel that would play a very large role in the statistics.

    • word on both counts.

      Though since I am an Ohioan currently transplanted in New England for college I am also (to echo what other people have said) impressed Ohio has been getting so much attention lately (though it would be better if not for this I guess).

      Note that Ohio also has a crap ton of colleges as do some of the other states (like Massachusetts) with high binge drinking rates.

      Because the majority of students are underage for the majority of the time they are in college, the focus for going out for an evening is how to get economically drunk fast. I personally think this is going to continue until we just lower the drinking age, which scares me because there’s definitely a lot of unhealthy behavior going on.

  9. Not gonna lie, slightly disappointed in my state. Granted Alabama is kinda conservative and “religious,” but we definitely get our drank on.

    4 drinks = binge drink. More like 4 shots + 1-3 drinks :P

  10. the fact that tennessee didn’t even participate is The Most Telling Thing about my home state, as far as i’m concerned.

    also, like almost everyone else has said, the definition of binge drinking is wholly inaccurate and pointless. i wish they’d redo this study after they’ve taken a more honest look at what binge drinking actually is. it’s so weird to live in such a selectively and pointedly blind, puritanical and sex-crazed patriarchy. i mean, i know you know that, but sometimes the little reminders are just … itchy. they’re itchy.

  11. It’s totally weird that the CDC doesn’t break this data out by age group? In my anecdatal experience, young people binge drink like it’s no big deal, but for middle-aged people it’s seen as a sign of alcoholism and otherwise frowned upon.

  12. I avoid binge drinking. So I make sure I never drink more than three in a night.

    A 40 counts as one drink right?

  13. Hmm, Oregon did go for Obama, but we’re not exactly extroverted, probably why we ended up in the middle.

    • how does one judge the extroverted-ness of a state? i feel like this could be quite subjective based on what part of the state you dealing with. (at least i know it’s that way for wisconsin- a state which for the most part highly approves of binge drinking as long as it’s in the form of beer.)

  14. I lived in California my entire life (25 years), up until 1 year ago when I moved to Iowa for grad school. I think I partied hardy in undergrad, but the kids in Iowa drink like fish! It is because alcohol is so cheap, literally a 32 oz (that is slurpee size people!) cocktail (as in long island ice tea)costs only $5!

  15. I’m so surprised that Missouri didn’t rank higher on the binge drinking stats. I go to a tiny, tiny liberal arts school in NE Missouri where binge drinking is practically expected when alcohol enters the equation and more than 3 people are present. I’m from a big city, but it seems like the smaller the college town (at least in missouri) the more normal binge drinking is perceived to be… that could totally be due to the fact that besides 4 bars you need to drive an hour and a half to do anything….
    This rant could also be the nonsensical influence of 2 glasses of wine on a wednesday night.

  16. These types of studies make me want to download the census data and go to town, summarizing and coding and making pretty graphs. Just me?

    I did a little investigating, and the definition of binge drinking the CDC uses comes from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The simplified definition of binge drinking is a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above. Reading a little more reveals the four drink rule. FOUR DRINKS IN TWO HOURS will get you into a situation where you have binged, approximately, for a woman.

  17. I´m i the only one who suspects that the moral craze around Binge drinking is really a moral crazy around women drinking?

    • One of my immediate thoughts when Carmen started showing the comparisons between less/more religious states was whether this could be explained by more conservative states having a lower number of female binge drinkers. It’d definitely be interesting to see some stats, certainly other studies I’ve seen have shown whopping increases in female drinking over the last half-century.

  18. Maine! Wow, we are drinkers, apparently. I’m not surprised. Long cold winters, not a lot of jobs; there’s not much else to do half the year.

  19. hmm… in New Zealand it’s 6 or more standards to classify as binge drinking. I guess that lets us get away with more drinking

  20. Oh man, you need to compare this to new zealand. Three in five people who drink, drink more than the recommended ‘safe’ amount… And if you were to look at the students it’d be a thousand times worse (though that’s probably the case everywhere). We’re terrible drinkers.

    On an unrelated note, we set up battleshots in our flat last night. Best game ever.

  21. Being from Wisconsin and attending college here, I can confirm that binge drinking is pretty much the state pastime. Heavy drinking is just part of the culture. A lot of my peers are actually pretty proud of it. In fact, I recently read this article that puts WI at number one:
    Also, it’s probably worth noting that alcohol in Wisconsin is super cheap. Seriously, it’s even cheap by Midwestern standards. I don’t know how they do it. Though I’m not sure if that’s a cause or effect of our excessive alcohol consumption. It also doesn’t help that there’s not much else to do around here. So, who knows.

    • As someone who attended a college in Wisconsin with the nickname “Sloshkosh” I can attest to this comment. It was a point of pride on how much you could drink in a single night.

  22. Considering how many lives are ruined, shortened, and lost because of alcohol, I would say that “I guess sometimes you just wanna let go” is a gross understatement of the situation. I don’t think that explanation would fly with the millions of neglected and abused children in the U.S., or the parents, friends, spouses or children or those who have been killed or maimed in car and other accidents, the girls who have been raped – even by so-called ‘friends’ – while the man and/or the girl was drunk, the family and friends of those who have died of alcohol poisoning or died an early death due to the toll alcohol has taken on their body, the families that have been destroyed, jobs lost, battered women (and, sometimes, men), and the millions of homeless people on our streets and/or being supported by people who are somehow managing to not succumb to the urge to ‘let go.’ Until people realize that that form of ‘letting go’ is destructive and that they actually have problems in their lives that are driving them to make a choice to be semi-conscious, and they start facing these problems and doing something about them, things aren’t going to change.

    • Alcoholism is bad, and drunk driving is bad, and dying of alcohol poisoning is bad, but having four drinks does not necessarily equal all of these things.

    • Things that I, a person who has, many times, had more than 4 drinks, have never done:
      Abused or neglected a child
      Driven drunk
      Sexually assaulted someone
      (I’m not even going to touch the victim blaming issue)
      Destroyed a family
      Lost a job because of drinking
      Battered a woman OR man
      Been homeless (though obviously people are often homeless for reasons having nothing to do with drinking)

  23. yeah cus it’s the midwest. (i think we can safely include maine and pennsylvania as deserts where the only thing there is ignorance) and everyone is in hell. of course we will drink

  24. So… this is really confusing, no one buys more than 9 drinks, and 4 is binging? i’d hate to see what we’re considered over here in britain then. Especially during freshers week at university, i went saturday-thursday without having a single non-alcoholic drink. not even water… That was really bad wasn’t it…

  25. Hm, I was surprised that Michigan didn’t rank. If MSU campus was its own state, they would have ranked.

    Seriously, I’ve never puked as much as I did those few years living in East Lansing…

  26. Australia is apparently trying to make it into an Olympic sport then – My fellow countryfolk explain binge drinking to me like preparing English tea; there is ceremony… it being the only correct way to drink in public.

    I wonder what the stat’s are for Northern Europe.
    Anyway, no one wins at this game.

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