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Zorba Paster: Moderation On Memorial Day Weekend

Wisconsin Is No. 1 For Binge Drinking, And That’s Not Something We Should Be Proud Of

Heath Cajandig (CC-BY-SA)

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the time of year when many of us kick back, contemplate the beautiful sunset and enjoy a few cold beverages.

In my family of inveterate non-drinkers, that meant Cokes or Pepsis. But when I came to the great state of Wisconsin, I found out it meant a few brews or a brandy old-fashioned sweet.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a libation, if you’re not an alcoholic. Time and time again when I mention that a drink a day is OK, I get calls from people with an alcohol problem asking, “Can I really have a drink?” For that group, the answer is no. Just thought I would spell that out in case anyone from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union is reading this.

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Now back to the issue: Wisconsin is numero uno for binge drinking. And that’s not something we should be proud of.

Statistics show that 25 percent of Wisconsinites have downed four to five drinks in a two-hour period — the simple definition of a binge — this last year. For one in four of you, that is just too much.

Lots of Badgers think they don’t have an alcohol problem if they stay dry, or nearly dry, during the week and only drink on the weekend. But binge drinking on a regular basis, the kind we see in our state, is simply not healthy.

If you need to drink, if it’s a compulsive behavior, then it’s dependency. That means you need help. And having one for the road, the slogan from “Mad Men” times, is more than passe. It’s stupid.

Researchers publishing in the BMJ Group’s Injury Prevention journal found that we have 50 percent fewer alcohol-fueled car-crash deaths than we did in the mid-1980s because we have learned that drinking and driving don’t mix. Yes, it’s true we have better cars, better tires and better seat restraints (when I was a kid, they weren’t even invented yet) but I think we’ve also learned not to fuel our car rides with booze.

The researchers found this precipitous drop started when Ronald Reagan signed the law making 21 the youngest age to legally get booze. They estimate we experience $20 billion more in productivity because of fewer hospitalizations and fatal crashes. That’s big money!

We can do better. There are still too many alcohol-inspired crashes, especially in young people — prom kids, college kids, working kids — who crash because of alcohol use.

So I have some suggestions that may seem simple but are worthwhile to consider, especially if you’re among the 1 in 4 binge drinkers or you have a young person you’re concerned about:

Talk to your children. You may have talked to them before about drinking, but now is the time. That means having another good-faith discussion on the perils of booze and cars, a deadly mix.

Talk to your friends or relatives. If you think they’re drinking too much, chances are they’re drinking too much. If you don’t tell them, who will? You might hurt their feelings, but you can handle it. Just starting the conversation is the best thing you can do.

And if, gentle reader, you think you may be binge drinking yourself, you probably are. There’s help out there. You may be able to cut down on your own — many can — or you change your relaxation habit by alternating your drinks with soft drinks. That can be an easy solution.

But the bottom line here is to take action. Leaving our Badger binge drinkers to binge is not the best policy. Stay well.