It’s Not Funny

The Daily Beast has a new list that’s making its way around the internet, the most drunken cities of America. Oddly, this seems to be treated by most I’ve seen as a comical collection of data or a badge of honor for those cities that made the list. I, however, don’t find the humor in this – for several reasons.

First and foremost is the further acceptance by mainstream media in the definition of binge drinking, as defined by the CDC – who uses the definition of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. According to these folks, “binge drinking” is a “pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above”. In other words, if you’ve drunk four or five drinks in a two hour period, you’re a binge drinker. Keep in mind, the USDA’s own “recommendation” for alcohol consumption is three drinks per day for women, four drinks per day for men. So, if you exceed the USDA recommended volume of alcohol consumption by just one drink, you’re a binge drinker.

Folks, I don’t know about you, but I find that illogical, misleading and terribly confusing. Imagine if a state were to deem speeding five miles per hour over the speed limit of 65 miles per hour as excessive speeding (or reckless). In California (where I live) speeding is defined, essentially, as exceeding the posted speed limit (70 mph is the top speed); whereas reckless driving is driving done in excess of 100 mph. That, to me, seems more in line with the way I think about recommendations, exceeding them and outright abusing them. In fact, I think that’s what most people think. Be honest, when you see the words ‘binge drinking’ we tend to think of characters like Johnny Depp in “Fear and Loathing” or Nick Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas” – those on major benders, unable to walk or speak, string together complex thoughts or carry on in any capacity. That is what we consider, as a public, to be binge drinking. Right? Well, guess what. The media has blindly accepted the bullshit definition of a binge drinker and perpetuated the myth to a point where it’s mainstream.

Why does this matter? Because our lawmakers buy into this shit, too. Folks read these stories, write letters and call their elected officials, who in turn feel they need to remedy a problem that really doesn’t exist to the level they’re concerned about it. It’s been said here before (as well as other places), the new prohibitionists aren’t out publicly trying to ban alcohol, that’d never work. Instead, they use propaganda such as this to influence policy makers into introducing fees, taxes and restrictions on sales that ultimately make alcohol harder to obtain. You think the City of San Francisco isn’t going to hear about its #3 ranking for the Drunkest Cities in America? They’ve already been pushing for new alcohol fees, citing public heath as a concern. Well, here’s more fodder for their misguided attempts to slide new taxes in while we’re distracted by the next big thing on TV.

Also of interest to me is the lack of apparent correlation between binge drinking and alcoholic liver disease. I mean, look at the two Northern California cities on the list – San Francisco and Sacramento. They’re close geographically, San Fran is #3 on the list, Sacramento ranks #23. Compare these stats:

Heavy Drinkers:

San Francisco: 8.2%

Sacramento: 7%

 

Binge Drinkers:

San Francisco: 19.6%

Sacramento: 15.6%

 

Deaths per 100,000 residents from alcoholic liver disease:

 

San Francisco: 6.9

Sacramento: 8.1

I don’t know. I clearly am not a doctor or statistician, but just looking at these generically it seems weird that San Francisco can dominate Sacramento in percentage of heavy drinkers and binge drinkers, but be so far behind Sacramento in the alcoholic liver disease category. I have my theories, however (lifestyle being chief among them – folks in SF just walk more than Sacramento).

In all I just want to convey that the we ought not jump on board in perpetuating stories like this. In fact, I’d love to see more of us speak out against the way we define binge drinking and the way ‘binge drinkers’ are characterized. If, in fact, we’re going to label anyone who have 4 or 5 beers as a binge drinker, we ought not be overly concerned as a general public. It’s pretty much like calling those who drive 75 or 80 in a 70mph zone “reckless drivers”. No, they’re speeders. Save the reckless term for those who truly are – same is true for those who abuse alcohol. Five drinks isn’t a binge. When you start doubling that number, then we’ll have something to talk about.

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