Alcohol

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in Wisconsin.

Frequently asked questions

How does alcohol affect the body?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that it is a drug that slows down brain activity. It can change your mood, behavior, and self-control. It can cause problems with memory and thinking clearly. Alcohol can also affect your coordination and physical control.

Alcohol also has effects on the other organs in your body. For example, it can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. If you drink too much at once, it could make you throw up.

Why are the effects of alcohol different from person to person?

Alcohol's effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • How much you drank.
  • How quickly you drank it.
  • The amount of food you ate before drinking.
  • Your age.
  • Your sex.
  • Your race or ethnicity.
  • Your physical condition.
  • Whether or not you have a family history of alcohol problems.

What is moderate drinking?

  • For most women, moderate drinking is no more than one standard drink a day.
  • For most men, moderate drinking is no more than two standard drinks a day.

Even though moderate drinking may be safe for many people, there are still risks. Moderate drinking can raise the risk of death from certain cancers and heart diseases.

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

Although the standard drink sizes are helpful for following health guidelines, they may not reflect customary serving sizes. A mixed drink, for example, can contain one, two, or more standard drinks, depending on the type of spirits and recipe.

Who should not drink alcohol?

Some people should not drink alcohol at all, including those who:

If you have questions about whether it is safe for you to drink, talk with your health care provider.

What is excessive drinking?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use:

  • Binge drinking is drinking so much at once that your blood alcohol concentration level is 0.08% or more. For a man, this usually happens after having 5 or more drinks within a few hours. For a woman, it is after about 4 or more drinks within a few hours.
  • Heavy alcohol use is having having more than 4 drinks on any day for men or more than 3 drinks for women.

Binge drinking raises your risk of injuries, car crashes, and alcohol poisoning. It also puts you of becoming violent or being the victim of violence.

Heavy alcohol use over a long period of time may cause health problems such as:

Heavy alcohol use can also cause problems at home, at work, and with friends. But treatment can help. Call 211 for the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline.

By the numbers

In 2019, Wisconsin ranked third in the country in terms of the percentage of adults who currently drink alcohol (64.4%), behind only Washington D.C. (68.7%) and New Hampshire (64.6%), and higher than other Midwest states like Minnesota (60.5 %), Iowa (58.9%), Illinois (57.4%), and Michigan (56.7%) [Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. More Wisconsin adults reported current alcohol use (in the past 30 days) than the national average (55.1%) [Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration].

When Wisconsin adults drink, they drink more often and consume more alcohol than adults in other states, drinking an average of 2.6 drinks per drinking occasion [Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Wisconsin (21.9%) ranks third in the nation (16.1%) for adult binge drinking, which is defined as four or more drinks for a woman or five or more drinks for a man on a single occasion [Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Studies show that as the perception of risk related to an activity decreases, the likelihood of adults participating in that activity increases. This relationship is demonstrated by Wisconsin adults' high rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking, and low rates of perceived harm from drinking (37.9%) [Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration].

Trend data show that consequences related to alcohol consumption are an increasing problem in the state.

While youth in Wisconsin are not binge drinking more than their national counterparts (12.7% vs. 13.7%, respectively), Wisconsin youth perceive binge drinking as less risky. Research has shown that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives [Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Research has also indicated that drinking alcohol is associated with the use of drugs and interferes with brain development. Accordingly, prevention efforts should focus on addressing the low perception of risk related to alcohol consumption among Wisconsin youth [Sources: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (PDF) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

Trend data show promising decreases in youth drinking. Wisconsin youth appear to mimic national trends, which show the percent of youth consuming alcohol has been steadily declining.

Check your drinking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created an alcohol screening tool. Access it now to assess your drinking habits

Drink less, be your best

Choosing to drink less alcohol can help you be your best. Being your best could mean feeling refreshed and rested each morning, having more money in the bank, or enjoying your golden years in good health. Here are some practical things you can try to help you cut back on drinking alcohol.

Set a drinking budget
Sticking to a budgeted amount for alcohol can be a good way to drink less. If you are going out, try taking only the exact cash or set up a spending alert on your credit or debt card.

Switch from stronger stuff
Choose drinks that are lower in alcohol. Try lighter beers – under 4% ABV. As a rule of thumb, white and rosé wines are lower in strength than reds. Or try swapping some or all of your drinks for no or low-alcohol alternatives.

Shake up your social plans
Going for drinks is not the only way to see friends. You could watch a film, meet up for breakfast, grab a coffee and go for a walk, go bowling, head to the gym, or sign up for a class to do together, for instance.

Write off the rounds
Being involved in rounds makes it easy to end up drinking more than you meant. Try to avoid them if you can, and do not feel like you have to say yes to a drink just because someone else is buying. There's always next time.

Only wine and dine
Waiting for your evening meal before you have a drink – and having your first only once you've started eating – is another simple way to help you cut down.

Beat boredom
If a drink is a way you handle boredom or stress, try finding something else to do instead. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and simple things like cleaning, a new hobby or do-it-yourself project can be a good way to occupy mind and body.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on why drinking less matters

Prevent underage drinking: Have small talks

Small Talks is a campaign to reduce the number of kids who drink alcohol before the age of 21. This statewide effort encourages adults, especially parents and caregivers, to have frequent, casual conversations with kids starting at age 8 on the dangers of underage drinking. Visit SmallTalksWI.org for more information.

Driver sober or get pulled over

Drunk driving continues to be one of the deadliest crimes in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s TwinStunts freestyle stunt team wants you to know that it’s never safe to drive (or ride) after drinking.

Get the free Drive Sober app! Features include designated driver selector, find a ride, games, and more! 

The Driver Sober app is a product of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. 

Data dashboards: Use, hospitalizations, and deaths 

Last Revised: July 21, 2022