U.S. cities with the worst drinking problem
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U.S. cities with the worst drinking problem

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

More than 40 million Americans (about one in six adults) indulge in binge drinking. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming four standard drinks in a two-hour span for females and five for males. Binge drinking has been on the rise over the last decade, with more than 8 million new binge drinkers since 2010. While binge drinking historically has been about twice as common in men than in women, new data suggests the gap is narrowing. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of binge drinkers rose by 2.9 million, out of which two-thirds were female.


The CDC estimates that excess drinking kills about 88,000 Americans each year from both direct causes, like alcoholic liver disease, and indirect causes, such as chronic hepatitis and oropharyngeal cancer. The national age-adjusted fatality rate from causes directly related to excess drinking has increased by more than 35 percent since 1999, from 7.1 to 9.6 deaths per 100,000 people. For women, the increase was 66 percent; and for white women, fatality rates rose by 103 percent.


Binge drinking is most common among the educated, affluent, and middle-aged, with whites having a higher likelihood of drinking than either Hispanics or blacks. Cities with higher proportions of these demographic groups are more likely to report higher rates of binge drinking. The recent growth in female binge drinking is a trend experts attribute to the normalization of heavy drinking for females, with targeted advertising and products such as the “Mad Housewife Mommy’s Little Helper,” “Skinnygirl Bare Naked Vodka,” and “Jane Walker.” Female binge drinking is especially troubling in light of new studies which show that a single daily drink for females lowers life expectancy and increases the risk of brain atrophy and liver damage.

Given the growing prevalence of excessive drinking in the United States, researchers at CarInsurance101.com wanted to explore which cities report the highest rates of binge drinking. Using data from the CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau, they examined binge drinking across America’s largest cities. Perhaps most interesting is that adults in cities with high rates of binge drinking also report being healthier overall. This trend could reflect a disparity between individuals’ perceptions of their health and reality.

These are the cities with the worst drinking problem.


The Top 15 Largest Cities With the Worst Drinking Problem

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15. Columbus, OH

  • Adults who binge drink: 19.0%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: -2.1%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 88.0%
  • Adults who graduated college: 37.1%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 40.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. New Orleans, LA

  • Adults who binge drink: 19.5%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 7.1%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 87.3%
  • Adults who graduated college: 37.1%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 42.2%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Portland, OR

  • Adults who binge drink: 20.0%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: -1.5%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 89.9%
  • Adults who graduated college: 50.7%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 50.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Virginia Beach, VA

  • Adults who binge drink: 20.1%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 6.3%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 89.9%
  • Adults who graduated college: 37.7%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 42.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. San Diego, CA

  • Adults who binge drink: 20.7%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 8.4%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 90.2%
  • Adults who graduated college: 46.0%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 47.6%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Austin, TX

  • Adults who binge drink: 20.9%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: -5.0%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 90.6%
  • Adults who graduated college: 54.1%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 51.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Philadelphia, PA

  • Adults who binge drink: 21.0%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 17.3%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 85.4%
  • Adults who graduated college: 30.9%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 39.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Chicago, IL

  • Adults who binge drink: 21.5%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: -1.4%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 87.6%
  • Adults who graduated college: 39.4%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 42.4%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. San Francisco, CA

  • Adults who binge drink: 21.6%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 4.9%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 91.1%
  • Adults who graduated college: 59.8%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 59.2%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Omaha, NE

  • Adults who binge drink: 21.7%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 3.3%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 89.2%
  • Adults who graduated college: 37.7%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 40.2%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Boston, MA

  • Adults who binge drink: 22.8%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 5.1%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 89.5%
  • Adults who graduated college: 51.4%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 50.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Milwaukee, WI

  • Adults who binge drink: 23.1%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 19.7%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 86.0%
  • Adults who graduated college: 24.7%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 31.2%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Minneapolis, MN

  • Adults who binge drink: 23.9%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 13.3%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 91.2%
  • Adults who graduated college: 51.4%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 50.6%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Denver, CO

  • Adults who binge drink: 23.9%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 18.3%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 89.7%
  • Adults who graduated college: 51.3%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 49.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Washington, D.C.

  • Adults who binge drink: 24.3%
  • 1-year change in binge drinking rate: 10.0%
  • Adults who report good physical health: 91.0%
  • Adults who graduated college: 60.4%
  • Adults in management & business jobs: 64.7%

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Data on the proportion of all individuals, males, and females above 18 years who binge drink, as well as data on those who report being in good physical and mental health comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey.

Data regarding age, education, race, work sector, and income were gathered from the U.S. Census’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption cause thousands of premature deaths, it also costs the nation more than $249 billion annually in lost productivity, healthcare costs, and criminal justice costs, according to a study by the CDC. This amounts to almost $2 in additional costs for each alcoholic drink, which are borne by society.

The link between alcohol and lower life expectancy, higher risk of cancer, and brain atrophy has been known by scientists and physicians for some time. But new studies show that even low amounts of alcohol—such as those described in the national dietary guidelines and previously considered safe—can lower life expectancy in the long run. Interestingly, this analysis finds that binge drinking is strongly associated with reporting good physical health, with a correlation of 49 percent. Given the known health impacts of binge drinking, individuals who drink heavily are either unaware of their current health problems or are at a higher risk of health complications in the future.


A deeper look into the data shows the association between binge drinking and having a college education is 38 percent, which represents a strong positive relationship. There is also a statistically significant link between binge drinking and working in the management and business sector, where binge drinking is possibly more normalized than in other work fields, such as transportation.


Regional variation across the nation remains substantial at the state level, ranging from 10 percent in Utah to 26 percent in Wisconsin. In general, Midwestern states report the highest levels of binge drinking.

While regional cultural differences undoubtedly influence these patterns, the CDC outlines a few general procedures for curbing heavy drinking: these include alcohol sale restrictions, alcohol taxes, and strict enforcement of laws against underage drinking. Given that binge drinking is on the rise again, increased attention is needed to avoid the next public health crisis.

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