I find Madison’s drinking culture perplexing.
Personally, I can’t have more than four drinks without my body congratulating me with the most unpleasant stomach experiences. Even though I am aware of my limits, I’m often surrounded by people who will forgo their body’s wishes and rally for a night (or nights) of heavy drinking. These people are my friends, my family, and my peers. They hold pride in their beer, extend a warm hand to strangers, and can put away a hearty number of drinks. The alcohol culture in Madison is lucrative and inviting, and I often get swept up in it without intending to. But, the same prideful Wisconsinites have accepted many consequences that accompany heavy-drinking without searching for a remedy.
According to a 24/7 Wall Street study, Wisconsin hosts 12 of the top 20 “drunkest cities” in America. Madison ranks number four on the list. The study uses the CDC’s definition of binge-drinking – four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men, where 15 drinks a week is considered heavy-drinking.
This isn’t something to be proud of.
Wisconsin is also ranked high in the number of drunken driving accidents. Being one of the most dangerous places to drunk drive in the US, because of extreme weather and the tendency to over-drink, most Wisconsin adults should have the common sense to avoid drunk driving.
When I became an adult I had to endure a good old-fashioned lecture about all the new ’grown-up’ situations I’d encounter. I promised never to drink and drive because of all the obvious dangers. And although it hasn’t always been convenient, I’ve always held up to that. But, I meet many people who don’t act the same way, who have pushed the line and made exceptions for themselves even when they know better.
Madison is a unique city because the University lies at the center of it, physically and culturally. UW-Madison was rated the number one party school for the 2016-2107 school year and, if social media is to be believed, is pretty proud of it.
The Princeton Review analyzes schools using student surveys and gives rankings based on “low personal daily study hours (outside of class), high usages of alcohol and drugs on campus and high popularity on campus for frats/sororities.”
Being the number one party school in America has boosted a lot of egos and confirmed the identities of many students. Unfortunately, the guidelines by which it has been judged are directly related to excessive drinking.
As problematic as binge-drinking can be generally, it disproportionately affects students of color, who are twice as likely as white students to identify as non-drinkers. A survey done by UW Madison’s University Health Services called “The Color of Drinking,” exposed this effect. In the predominately white school, 66 percent of the non-drinkers are students of color, twice the number of white non-drinkers. Ninety percent of the 500 students of color who took the survey reported Madison’s drinking culture as negative. Non-drinking students, most of them students of color, can feel pressured by internalized attitudes of the number one party school preaching, “turn up or transfer” and “drink or get out”.
The drinking culture in Madison has monopolized many adult interactions and has even extended its reach into family events. If this culture continues to cultivate ‘participation or exclusion’ ideals, especially among young adults, we will continue to become more irrational and intolerant in our other areas of life.
Julia Sherman, the coordinator for the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project in Wisconsin, suggests that there are four main reasons for Wisconsin’s pervasive relationship with alcohol. She calls them the four “A’s” – availability, affordability, attractiveness, and acceptability.
As an individual there is little that can be done to change the availability or affordability of alcohol. But, you can still scrutinize the attractiveness, or advertisements confirming the societal norm that drinking means fun. And you can still question the expectation that you should have one more drink.
This piece was produced by a student reporter in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more or to support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.