Pabst Brewing Company might be counting on Chicago’s consistently high binge drinking statistics for good sales of its new Blast malt liquor product—or as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan calls it, “binge in a can.” As of last week, you could purchase one night’s drinking binge in a can of Blast at the stores. One can, 23.5 oz, is equivalent to drinking a six pack of beer.
Every day an average of 11,318 teens try alcohol for the first time. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by persons under the age of 21 in the U.S. Is the result of binge drinking. In teen thinking, that’s: “There’s booze, let’s get wasted.”
With the already consistently high ranking in national surveys of Chicago as topping the charts for binge drinking, Chicago is just the right climate for hawking anything that will make binge drinking “cooler” and even faster and easier. No more opening up and having to pour those multiple drinks that slow down your progress to getting the buzz you’re looking for—it’s all in one can for your convenience.
Chicago doesn’t really need help when it comes to binge drinking, an activity they have scored at or near the number one in the nation ranking in on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey for the past decade. (Not to take anything away from Milwaukee, number one for overall drinking consumption in 2009 at 23.9 percent.)
The definition they use to question the 350,000 men and women is: are you a man who have had 5 or more drinks or a woman who’s had 4 or more drinks in one sitting within the past 30 days? It’s not an invasion of privacy. The questioner doesn’t get into the night you forgot where you live, totaled the new car, or danced on the bar in your underwear.
According to a study done in 2007 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), of the 15 largest cities in the country, Chicago topped the list once again for binge drinking. The study reported 25.7 percent of Chicagoans are binge drinkers, well over the national average. Binge drinking among adults in the country in the year 2009 was about 15.8 percent, and 17.0 percent for the State of Illinois. To be fair, Chicago, when it’s binge drinking statistics are filtered with those of the Naperville and Joliet metro areas, only comes in at a mere 18.0 percent.
Judging from a SAMHSA study, released April 7th in conjunction with National Alcohol Screening Day, it doesn’t matter what Chicago thinks of its binge drinking statistics on a personal or cultural level, because most drinkers with “untreated alcohol abuse disorder” don’t believe they could benefit from treatment. Binge drinking is alcohol abuse, no doubt about it, even if it’s 4 or 5 drinks, a figure that may sound like Mormon drinking to some or what the school marm in her 70’s puts away at the book club. . Yes, really, 4 or 5 drinks you bingers. Many are saying they spill more than that in a night and don’t think about it twice. The study might as well have just reported that no problem drinkers were interested in getting help, none, but there were 1.2 percent, who at least stated they weren’t against it in principle, or something like that. Maybe they were just seeking the approval of the person asking the survey questions.
What is it with Chicago and binge drinking? Is it the result of coming from a great melting pot of immigrant settlers, where drinking to get hammered was and is often a revered tradition passed down over the generations? If your family comes from countries that do a lot of extreme drinking such as France, Spain, England, Sweden, Denmark, or Germany, maybe it’s time to consider some new family cultural values. The majority of binge drinkers are white, you know, followed by Hispanics, and way below them are blacks, and Asians, and then all the rest of the world’s multi-cultural people who are now American.
Why does this city have so many drinkers who really go for the buzz? Chicago: the city so bad it got its biggest celebration of the high holy holiday of binge drinking, the South Side St. Patrick’s parade, cancelled for extreme drinking, and the usual obnoxious, rude behavior that goes along with it.
How A Couple of Chicago Bartenders View Chicago Drinking:
It is a Chicago way of life for many to go straight from work to the bar, and stay there until the lights come on, as most of bartender Billy Vos of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern’s customers do. Vos has been waiting tables, bartending and making those double “cheezborgers” that don’t always get served with “No Pepsi! Coke!” but often with Vodka, Rum or beer. Vos says the average customer who keeps this steady, dependable routine isn’t in their 20’s, but between the ages of 40 and 55. Every day is a celebration for his customers who are glad to be out of work, and back at the bar doing what they enjoy.
Shane Hendrix has been been a Chicago bartender for the past 20 years. For the past few years, he has been bartending at Simon’s Tavern, an historical, nostalgic kind of neighborhood place that dates back to Prohibition. Judging from the bar’s published reviews, the customers think of Simon’s as their “favorite dive,” and love the jukebox, the bartenders, and the homemade glogg in winter.
“Every night is a street festival,” he starts out saying when asked about whether he sees much binge drinking. He thinks that St. Patrick’s Day is definitely the ultimate binge drinking holiday, and says, “If it falls in the middle of the week, then we celebrate it the weekend before the day and the weekend after.” His customers are between the ages of 35 to 50.
Hendrix initially plays it coy and tries to downplay extreme drinking in his customers, saying he didn’t think that any were binge drinkers among them. He seems ready to back it up too, despite statements like the “street festival” nightly, until he is told the definition used for binge drinking here. Then he does an about-face, saying, “Then every Friday and Saturday after 11 p.m. everyone is a binge drinker.”
Here are some facts about binge drinking that may surprise you:
First, the point needs to be made that binge drinkers can be responsible spouses, parents, sons and daughters. They can have excellent careers doing important work. They probably have money, quit smoking and try to take care of their health in other regards, and perhaps volunteer for worthy endeavors. They are not stumblebums in large part–not that many people can be alcoholic bums. That would mean there was no income and consequently homelessness. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) July 2008 assessment, the number of chronically homeless people (those with repeated episodes or who have been homeless for long periods, 2007 data) was 123,833.
- Although college students commonly binge drink, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older.
- The wealthier people are, the more they tend to binge.
- The more education a person has,the more likely they are to binge drink.
- Over 75 percent of the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S. is in the form of binge drinks.
- Men are twice as likely to binge drink than women.
- Some questionable expert factoids? Binge drinking is more often seen in those who have never been married, scored a grade of less than a “B,” and who aren’t traditionally religious.
What’s the Problem With Binge Drinking?
What’s the problem with some extreme drinking for those over age 21, who don’t drive when under the influence, beat their spouse or children, or attempt to imitate Charlie Sheen’s acting out in any way? Even the stigma of being overserved and becoming a public spectacle is lessened now that, since the recession, more people are doing their drinking at home. There’s less chance for street fights, beer goggle selection of a partner for the evening, and passing out on the bar or its sticky floor. Who cares right? It’s your business. Aren’t you free in this great Democracy where you were sanctioned by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 to have the right to the “pursuit of Happiness(sic)”?
Considering the amount of money, resources and number of agencies and organizations working on prevention methods of some kind, you would expect people to have a better understanding of alcohol abuse and the dangers/consequences of binge drinking, but it seems to be accepted in this city as a way of life: You work hard. You play hard. It’s your own business if you stay drunk from Friday night until Monday morning, right?
A Few Consequences of Binge Drinking
So many truly bad, no good, tragic, traumatic, life-altering, shocking, sad, lethal, unnecessary and hideous consequences come from drinking until you’re comfortably numb. The prevention people haven’t done as good as a job as they might have, perhaps, in making sure that everybody is well aware of the connection between these and drunk drinking.
There are too many in the category of cancer risk or cardiac health impairment to start listing them all just under physical problems that develop from drinking more than one or two drinks per day, as recommended by the American Cancer Society.
Sure, and we know all about the crime, violence, job loss, divorce rates, fetal alcohol syndrome births and relationship problems, as well as injuries and deaths from alcohol-related accidents, don’t we? Here are just a few you may not be able to recite from heart:
- Individuals with a substance use disorder (i.e.,either a diagnosis of abuse or dependence on alcohol or drugs) are almost 6 times more likely to report a lifetime suicide attempt than those without a substance use disorder. Recent evidence from veterans indicates that men with a substance use disorder are approximately 2.3 times more likely to die by suicide than those who are not substance abusers. Among women, a substance use disorder increases the risk of suicide 6.5-fold.
- In 2009, an estimated 30.2 million people (12.0 percent) aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. Although this reflects a downward trend from 14.2 percent in 2002, it remains a cause for concern.
- Binge drinking is the major cause of alcohol poisoning , which occurs when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches .25 to .40 grams per deciliter. An average 160-pound male could hit that range—and beyond—with 20 drinks in one hour. At this extreme level, alcohol overloads the liver’s processing capacity. The heart and lungs can fail, leading to coma, and sometimes even death. Those who survive can be left with significant brain damage. Even though college-aged people are the most vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, the majority of alcohol poisoning deaths actually occur in people aged 45-54.
- While alcohol poisoning is rarely the sole cause of a young adult’s death, excessive drinking frequently contributes to unintentional fatalities. According to a recent article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, alcohol-related deaths among U.S.college students climbed from 1,440 deaths in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005.
There’s always a newly discovered negative health result from binge drinking too, just look in the news. This week one was reported by Chicago’s own Loyola University Health System and it is definitely another reason to not binge drink. Binge drinking, researchers found, could change the body’s immune system response to orthopaedic injury. “This tremendously complicates the trauma care of these patients,” said bone biologist John Callaci, Ph.D, senior author of the study.
The study, which was based on a rodent model, is being published in the April 20, 2011 issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, now available online.
An earlier study in the American Journal of Orthopedics found that 41 percent of patients with fractures and dislocations had alcohol in their blood and 30 percent were legally drunk.
Other studies have found that alcohol in trauma patients is associated with longer hospital stays, higher infection rates, higher injury severity scores and an increased mortality rate. Researchers have attributed these findings, in part, to changes alcohol causes in the immune response.
Making Wise Choices
If you are concerned for health reasons or any because of losses/consequences, about your binge drinking, do yourself a tremendous favor and just pick up the short, free brochure, Rethinking Drinking.
It’s about as rational, objective and helpful a tool on drinking as you’re ever likely to read about drinking. It’s put out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and it has about everything a person needs to make good choices about drinking. It has screening tools you can use to help yourself get more objective about the role alcohol plays in your life. If you think you need to quit drinking, don’t do it on your own, which can be dangerous even fatal. Use the resources provided in this listing. There are also more support groups listed than A.A., including ones for moderate drinking and rational recovery.
- Find more support groups and contacts.
Learn to say no.Find new interests and activities to fill your time. Treat yourself to things like massages, health club visits, long bike rides, days spent at the Art Institute or walking down by the Lake. You need to look out for and be good to yourself if you are going to be successful in quitting binging. You can make it if you try. Break the cycle now before the consequences get worse, or something happens that won’t go away in the morning. You will feel better, and you will feel better about yourself.
- “Nearly All American Adults With Untreated Alcohol Use Disorders Don’t Think They Need Treatment, Medical News Today, April 7, 2011
- “Another Reason Not To Binge Drink Alcohol,” Medical News Today, April 18, 2011
- Source : US Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- “Madigan Warns Against New Pabst Product “Blast,” by Darlene Hill, FOX Chicago News, 4/21/2011