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    Guest comments in the Jan. 24, 2012, Tomahawk Leader:

    By Maureen Busalacchi

    Once again, Wisconsin is number one. But this time, we’re number one in binge drinking. This isn’t just embarrassing, it borders on social pathology. And we need to act.

    Last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report included a nationwide study on binge drinking that placed Wisconsin as the nation’s worst binge drinking state – with a fourth of all adults reporting they were binge drinkers. That’s 50 percent higher than the national average.

    But what’s worse is that those binge drinkers reported consuming nine drinks per setting! For an average 180-pound male, three to four drinks over a few hours would be enough alcohol in their blood stream to make it illegal to drive. Nine drinks is a bad accident waiting to happen.

    And even more embarrassing than that – the study shows that these statistics seem substantially under-reported because Wisconsin purchases much more alcohol than it reports drinking.

    Over the years, Wisconsin’s obsession with alcohol can be seen every day.

    The fact is, we don’t take binge drinking and the alcohol-related problems it creates seriously. It’s cultural. Alcohol abuse and problems associated with alcohol have long been accepted or tolerated in this state.
    Until this perception is changed, we can’t solve the problem. We can’t even have a serious discussion about it.
    More residents need to recognize the serious effects that alcohol abuse causes in our state, and must voice their opinions that this is no longer acceptable. Without this public outcry, state legislators and local elected officials will continue the status quo, which means the violence, assaults, crime, property damage and health issues related to alcohol abuse will continue unabated.

    And what are we doing? We actually just made the problem worse.

    Just last month, Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature passed a bill into law allowing retailers to begin selling alcohol at 6 a.m., two hours earlier than previously allowed. Increased availability of alcohol does nothing to curb binge drinking; it does the exact opposite.

    This shows neither the Legislature nor the governor truly recognize the alcohol abuse problems that exist and the negative impact on our economy and quality of life. It also suggests that the voices of the concerned citizens, health experts and our public safety officials are not being heard.

    The cost of alcohol, the number and density of alcohol licenses, the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and the overall availability of alcohol all are major factors in alcohol abuse and binge drinking.

    So we have lots of potential tools to work with as all of these factors are regulated. With effective polices put in place, neighborhoods, communities, counties and the state can see positive changes in the fight against alcohol abuse in Wisconsin.

    But first we have to recognize the embarrassing state our drinking culture has plunged us. Then we need to come together and solve the problem. At the very least, we need to stop making the problem worse.
    Maureen Busalacchi is the executive director of Health First Wisconsin, a coalition of health care and health advocacy groups organized to reduce tobacco use, promote nutrition and activity and prevent alcohol abuse.

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