What Are the Nation’s Hardest-Drinking Counties?

A study of CDC data has some surprising results

Drinking man
Where does the nation drink to excess the most?
Getty Images

It’s been over 90 years since Prohibition was repealed, and yet even now, alcohol consumption differs radically from state to state. A Bitter Southerner article from 2021 pointed out that almost half of Arkansas’s counties are dry, for instance; a few years earlier, The Economist estimated that 18,000,000 Americans live in counties where alcohol is illegal. Selling alcohol is one thing, though — consuming it is another.

Now, thanks to the website Intoxistates, we can see precisely where Americans are drinking to excess — and to what degree. The map was created using CDC data, and uses the agency’s definition of excessive drinking, which encompasses both “binge drinking” and “heavy drinking.”

Looking at Arkansas and Utah on the map, you’ll see plenty of green, denoting relatively dry levels of alcohol consumption. Utah also features the nation’s least-excessive county of drinkers: Utah County, home to the city of Provo. There, only 9.04% of the residents are excessive drinkers; on the other side of the spectrum, Gallatin County, Montana features the highest proportion of residents who drink to excess: 26.8%.

There are some surprises in the data. You might think that cities would feature high concentrations of excessive drinkers — but in New York, the lowest percentages of excessive drinkers are found in the Bronx and Queens. (New York County — aka Manhattan — has a higher percentage.) Montana and Wisconsin both have relatively high levels of excessive drinkers overall.

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It’s interesting to look at Alaska on the map after learning that dozens of communities there strongly regulate the possession of alcohol. A number of counties on the U.S.-Canada border also contain high levels of excessive drinking — but, curiously, Maine’s Aroostock County has the state’s lowest level of excessive drinkers. There’s plenty of history and sociology that can be divined from this data — and plenty of stories to unearth here as well.


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