Page last updated: August 13, 2015

Drinking patterns in US counties from 2002 to 2012

Research conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and published in the American Journal of Public Health gives estimates of the prevalence of any drinking and binge drinking from 2002 to 2012 and heavy drinking from 2005 to 2012 in each county in the US.

The study found that there were large differences between counties in all measures of alcohol use: in 2012, any drinking prevalence ranged from 11.0% to 78.7%, heavy drinking prevalence ranged from 2.4% to 22.4%, and binge drinking prevalence ranged from 5.9% to 36.0%. Moreover, there was wide variation in the proportion of all drinkers who engaged in heavy or binge drinking. Heavy and binge drinking prevalence increased in most counties between 2005 and 2012, but the magnitude of change varied considerably.

The report found that overall, heavy drinking in the US has risen by 17.2% since 2005 and binge drinking has increased by 8.9% over the same period. The study highlighted how nationwide levels of binge drinking have been affected by changes in drinking trends among women. Overall, Binge drinking among women rose by 17.5% compared with a rise of 4.9% among men between 2005 and 2012.

In 2012, 8.2% of Americans were defined as heavy drinkers and 18.3% were considered to be binge drinkers. The lowest levels of binge drinking (5.9% of residents) were found in Madison County, Idaho, and the highest (36% of residents) were in Menominee, Wisconsin. Hancock County, Tennessee, had the lowest levels of heavy drinking (2.4%), with Esmeralda County, Nevada, having the greatest proportion of heavy drinkers (22.4%).

Although rates of heavy drinking and binge drinking have risen between 2005 and 2012, the researchers found, however, that the national rates of drinkingany alcohol are unchanged. In both 2005 and 2012, 56% of Americans reported drinking any alcohol. Although some regional drinking patterns were observed at a national level - the West, Midwest and New England all exhibited higher levels of alcohol consumption in comparison with other regions, for instance - the authors say that the “most striking” disparities were found within states.

As an example, the researchers explain that rates of overall binge drinking in Texas ranged from 10.8% in Collingsworth County to 35.5% in Loving County - so while one Texan county was well below that national binge drinking average of 18.3%, another county in the same state had levels of binge drinking nearly twice that average.

The authors conclude that there are large differences within the United States in levels and recent trends in alcohol use. They suggest that theirs estimates should be used as an aid in designing and implementing targeted interventions and to monitor progress toward reducing the burden of excessive alcohol use.

Source: Dwyer-Lindgren L, Flaxman AD, Ng M, Hansen GM, Murray CJL, Mokdad AH. Drinking patterns in US counties from 2002 to 2012. American Journal of Public Health. 2015 April 23; e1-e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302313. us-counties-2002-2012

All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.