Is New Hampshire the drunkest state?
In December, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that nearly 64 percent of Granite Staters aged 12 and older had a drink in the last month, placing the state among the highest percentages reported.
A 2014 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism would seem to agree. Looking at alcohol sales and state population, it found New Hampshire topped the chart with 4.65 gallons of alcoholic beverages (a mix of spirits, wine and beer) sold per person per year, double the national average of 2.33 gallons per person per year. The state also came in first for per capita consumption in each of the categories of beverages.
The problem with this study is that 50 percent of our spirits and wine sales are from out-of-state customers, according to New Hampshire Liquor Commission spokesman E.J. Powers.
“Oftentimes the sale of alcohol has been a contributing factor in reported consumption rates, and with half of our sales coming from out-of-state residents, that oftentimes skews the numbers,” Powers said.
Joseph Harding, the director of the state Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, said the most reliable data come from a survey conducted by SAMHSA, which places New Hampshire securely in the top spot among states.
The researchers asked survey respondents age 12 and up if they had had an alcoholic beverage in the past month, but that’s a measurement of how many people drink, not how much they drink.
“Thirty-day use just says that generally these folks are engaged in the use of alcohol,” Harding said.
By that metric, 63.6 percent of residents age 12 and up are drinking. Only the District of Columbia was higher at 69 percent, and Vermont, Connecticut and Wisconsin were close behind with about 60 percent each. The national average is 52 percent.
“The one thing that those data points do not elaborate on is what’s the rate beyond the one alcoholic beverage a month,” Powers said. “If 60 percent of the population of folks that are of-age are consuming one alcoholic beverage a month, one alcoholic beverage a month is fairly moderate, I would say.”
… And how much?
The same SAMHSA report that shows nearly 64 percent of state residents aged 12 and up are regular drinkers also shows that 7.2 percent of them had an alcohol use disorder in the past year. That’s above the U.S. average of 6.14 percent, but not far from it. Four states and the District of Columbia had higher rates and several more weren’t far behind.
Other figures suggest New Hampshire might behave similarly (or even more responsibly) to those in states where consumption is lower overall. The Centers for Disease Control reported the state had a drunk driving rate of 1.4 percent, which was in the middle of the pack compared to other states and below the national average of 1.9 percent.
According to the NIAAA, deaths by alcohol-related cirrhosis in New Hampshire were in line with the national average of 5 per 100,000 population. The state had a rate of 4.9 between 2011 and 2013.
According to SAMHSA, New Hampshire’s overall binge drinking (five or more drinks in a short period of time) rate between 2013 and 2014 was 24 percent, which is slightly above the national average of 23 percent. Still, binge drinking among young adults is above average.
According to the most recent SAMHSA survey from 2014 to 2015, the state had among the highest rates of youth alcohol consumption, though numbers dropped by about 5 percent since the last survey conducted between 2008 and 2009.
“There’s no ambiguity surrounding the fact that underage consumption of alcohol is a serious issue and it must be faced on a local, state and national level,” Powers said. “The consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21 is unacceptable in the eyes of the liquor commission.”
In the 12-to-17 age group, 13 percent had a drink in the past month; among 18- to 25-year-olds, 69 percent had. The national averages for those groups were 10 and 59 percent, respectively. Only the District of Columbia beat out New Hampshire in the 18-to-25 age group with 74 percent.
While more research would be needed to be sure, Harding believes bringing down New Hampshire’s youth consumption rates would substantially decrease our overall consumption rates.
“I think it would probably bring us more in line [with other states],” Harding said.
The state is about to solicit contracts to develop prevention education programs using $12 million in federal grant money, in an attempt to drive down undereage drinking. One vendor has already been contracted to come up with an outreach campaign to reduce high-risk drinking among young adults.