“Mission Accomplished. Got everything done. Now I get to binge drink through New Year’s.”
Twitter user “Comfortably Smug” tidily sums up the holiday sentiments of many of us as we wrap up 2016’s loose ends before checking out until the new year.
While we don’t recommend that you “binge drink through New Year’s,” there’s no doubt that the holidays have traditionally been a time for boozing it up. For instance, considering the total monthly alcohol sales in the United States, you may detect a seasonal trend — the spikes in December of each year.
We’re not just buying booze during the holidays, of course — we’re guzzling it down, too. Various direct and indirect measures of alcohol consumption, including breathalyzer data, Web searches for hangover relief and alcohol-related traffic deaths all suggest that peak American drinking happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
But who among us is likely to do the most drinking this holiday season? The Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the official federal statistics on the percent of state residents ages 12 and older who drink at least once a month.
New England is home to the nation’s heaviest drinkers — New Hampshire, where about 64 percent of residents age of 12 or older drink monthly, is tops in the country. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut also come in at drinking rates above 60 percent. Hard-drinking cheeseheads in Wisconsin see to it that their home is the only Midwestern state in the top tier of American drinkers.
The next tier of heavy drinking states are all in the northern part of the country. Some researchers posit that there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and latitude — at the country level, alcohol consumption tends to increase the farther you get away from the equator. This could be a function of the potential for boredom and depression during winter months when the nights are long, the days are short, and baby it’s cold outside.
But other cultural factors can attenuate this relationship — look at Utah and, particularly, Idaho. They’re in the bottom tier of the states for drinking frequency. Utah, where only 31 percent of adults drink in a given month, comes in dead last. This is almost certainly because of the large Mormon populations in those states — 58 percent of Utahans are Mormon, as are 24 percent of people in Idaho. Mormonism generally prohibits the use of alcohol and other drugs.
There’s likely a similar religious influence in Alabama, Mississippi and the other southern states where drinking is low. Those states have large evangelical Christian populations, many of whom are abstainers.
One interesting thing about American drinking rates is how little they change over time. In all of the U.S., the past month drinking rate in 2014/2015 (52 percent) is essentially unchanged from the rate in 2008/2009.