Where Americans Drink the Most

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Wisconsin has the highest proportion of drinkers of any state. Here, Badgers football fans play beer pong in the parking lot at the 99th Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California, January 1, 2013. Danny Moloshok / REUTERS

Tennessee is known for its whiskey and Appalachian states like West Virginia for moonshine, and you might be forgiven for thinking that people in these areas drink a lot. But you'd be wrong. In fact, these two states have the smallest percentage of heavy drinkers in the United States.

Overall, people drink significantly more in the North than in the South; Utah has the smallest percentage of tipplers; and when it comes to binge-drinking, Wisconsin holds the (dubious) distinction of coming in first.

Such are the results of a study compiling data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2011 to 2013. Detox.net, a site that helps people locate facilities for substance abuse and alcohol treatment, combed through the info and produced a series of maps and graphs that provide an amazing overview of boozing in the U.S.

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This map shows that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of drinkers. Detox.net

Wisconsin stands out both for its total proportion of drinkers—nearly two-thirds of adults say they have had a drink in the past 30 days—and for its fondness for excess: 24 percent admit to being binge-drinkers, placing it first in proportion of bingers. On average, these people say they down between eight and nine drinks at a time, according to the CDC.

North Dakota and Washington, D.C. come in a close second and third, respectively, with 23.9 percent and 23.5 percent of adults reporting to binge-drink. Iowa and Illinois round out the top five binge-drinking states, making the Midwest the most common place to go overboard on alcohol.

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The Midwest has the most binge-drinking. Detox.net

D.C. also has the second highest proportion of drinkers at 65 percent, and the top five is rounded out by three states in the Northeast: Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, all at 64 percent.

What are the reasons for some of these trends?

"Social norms and culture plays a huge part," says Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the University of Washington. "Folks tend to drink more if they are in an environment where it is a norm to go out for a drink after work for example. Moreover, the network of friends someone has may influence behavior."

Other factors include the number of alcohol outlets and price of alcohol, rules on serving drinks and the proximity of bars to each other (where there are a lot, people tend to bar-hop), Mokdad says.

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The heaviest drinkers congregate in the North and West. Detox.net

As for Wisconsin, the state has a long history of drinking, as well as looser laws; minors can drink when in the company of family (as long as the bartender consents), and first-time DUIs are essentially treated about the same as traffic tickets by the law.

The Northeast has a higher percentage of college students, which may explain why the region generally has a higher proportion of drinkers, says William Kerr, a senior scientist with the Alcohol Research Group. The large amount of young men in North Dakota, driven there by the petroleum industry, could also explain that state's position in the rankings, he says.

The South likely has fewer drinkers because of its high proportion of Southern Baptists, who frown upon excessive alcohol consumption, according to Detox.net. It's also known for having "dry counties," where beer and liquor cannot be purchased. Roman Catholics, found in higher numbers in the North, like in Wisconsin, have a more lenient stance on alcohol; some Catholic communities even embrace drinking. Mormons prohibit drinking entirely, which explain Utah's dryness, and strict laws; grocery stores can't sell liquor or wine, and the only beer you can buy in the state has very low alcohol content.

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Heavy drinking peaks around age 21, but there are other times when people drink a lot. Detox.net

The survey also found that heavy drinking peaked around the age of 21, with other minor "mini-peaks" around the early-40s and early-50s.

Where Americans Drink the Most | Culture