Lessons on Bingeing from Buffalo

In an editorial for the Buffalo News, Megan Kunecki, Community Educator for the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (ECCPASA) makes several important points about adult binge drinking in Western New York and the rest of NYS.

Three points that particularly stand out:

1) Forget the stereotypes:  Binge drinking is not a “poor person’s problem”

The income group containing the most binge drinkers, at 20.2 percent, is those whose annual income is more than $75,000. However, the income group that binge drinking affects most often is those who make less than $25,000 a year.

This means that the contention made by alcohol interests and their allies – that alcohol taxes are unfairly regressive – is neither accurate nor honest.  Wealthier people are more likely to binge drink, while low-income people are often forced to bear the brunt of alcohol-related harm due to the concentration of alcohol outlets in the most deprived neighborhoods and other factors.

2) The data demand a closer look

Although New York State wasn’t recognized as one of the highest states in terms of percentage of adults who binge drink, it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem here. The CDC study identifies a percentage ranging from 18.7 percent to 25.6 percent as having the highest proportion of binge drinkers per state. A study by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that the Western New York region has about a 22 percent binge drinking rate. When comparing the CDC data to the data here in Western New York, we would fall under the ‘high binge drinking’ category.

If we look only at NYS averages we miss the fact that some areas – most notably large swaths of Western NY and the North Country – are closer to high-binge states (such as those in New England and the Upper Midwest) in their binge drinking rates.

3) It’s time for full-cost accounting on alcohol

Binge drinking, or drinking at all, might not seem like a problem or cause for concern to many people, but when data suggests that each year 80,000 Americans die because of alcohol, or that that drinking costs an already-suffering economy $223.5 billion, we all should be concerned.

Many times our notions of economic development are short-sighted at best, self-defeating at worst.  Unless we carefully analyze the health impacts of our policy decisions, we actually risk making the economic conditions of our neighborhoods worse.  Considering the role of excessive alcohol consumption in chronic diseases and admissions to Level-1 Trauma centers, and the burden of Medicaid costs on state and county budgets, we can’t afford get-rich-quick schemes which threaten the health and safety of our communities.

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