Barron County has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the state, according to a UW study released this month.
About 27% of Barron County residents engage in binge drinking, according to the report, “The Burden of Binge Drinking in Wisconsin.”
That is higher than the state average of 24% and well-above the national average of 16%.
Of those who drink to excess, they do so about 4.1 times per month, according to the report.
“This costs us a lot economically and personally through the loss of lives,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. “Unfortunately, Barron County seems to have one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the state, however, as a community, we can change that.”
The cost of binge drinking to the county is estimated at $36.6 million.
This includes $24.3 million in lost productivity, $5.3 million for criminal justice, $3.6 million for health care and $3.4 million of “other” costs.
Broken down further that’s a cost to government of $15.2 million, and $796 per person.
According to the report, Barron County is well-above its neighbors in terms of binge drinking rates.
By percentage binge drinking rates were 27% in St. Croix County, 22% in Sawyer County, 20% in Dunn County, 19% in Polk County, 18% in Rusk County, 15% in Washburn County and 11% in Burnett County.
The highest rates were Calumet County at 31% and Iron and Portage counties at 29%.
Stacey Frolik, Barron County Health & Human Services director, said alcohol abuse affects her department in several ways.
“We work with and provide services for residents with alcohol addiction regularly in the Intensive Outpatient AODA groups, Drug and Alcohol Court, Child Protective Services and Comprehensive Community Services. Through the prevention services and the Drug Free Communities grant at the Department there has been a focus on youth substance use/abuse,” she said.
Frolik cateogrized the pervasiveness of binge drinking into four ‘As’ — Acceptability, Affordability, Attractiveness and Availability:
• Acceptability—Our community culture, perception and norms support alcohol consumption as part of “the fabric of life.” Many fundraisers, sporting events, community events and social outings in our area involve the sale of alcohol.
• Affordability—Alcohol is one of the most affordable addictive substances in our area.
• Attractiveness—The marketing and positive messaging regarding alcohol use is attractive and very visible in Barron County.
• Availability—Alcohol is very easy and convenient to obtain in liquor stores, bars, restaurants, convenience stores and discount outlets.
Fitzgerald said, “Alcohol related incidents are 100% preventable. Everyone can do their part to make sure family, friends and roads stay safe by making plans to get home safely before going out, stopping family and friends from getting into a car after they’ve been drinking and by supporting those who may need serious help with their alcohol use.”
He continued, “Establish traditions in your family that are not built around alcohol and model good behavior. Talk to your kids about making good choices.”
Fitzgerald emphasized that making safe choices about alcohol is especially important around the holidays.
“The night before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest nights for underage drinking,” he said. “Alcohol tends to be more available as older siblings and college-age friends are home, many for the first time since school started and are getting together with and providing alcohol to younger friends and family. Alcohol is also more accessible with homes full of alcohol in preparation for Thanksgiving and teens have more time with school and work being out.”