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Alcohol Use in Wisconsin

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in Wisconsin.

Alcohol FAQ (frequently asked questions)

Expand each section to find the answers to common questions about alcohol.

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.

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.

It’s no secret that drinking alcohol can affect your health. But did you know it can increase your risk for cancer? At least seven different types of cancer are connected to drinking:

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Esophagus (Squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Liver
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Voice box (Larynx cancer)

The Wisconsin Cancer Collaborative has more information about the connection between alcohol and cancer.

  • 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.

"Excessive drinking" includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use:

  • Binge drinkingDrinking so much alcohol at once that there is 0.08% or more alcohol in your blood. For most men, this means drinking five or more standard drinks within a few hours. For most women, this means drinking four or more standard drinks within a few hours.
  • Heavy alcohol useHaving more than four standard drinks in one day for men or more than three standard drinks in one day for women.

"Excessive drinking" can harm your health. Binge drinking raises your risk of injuries, car crashes, and alcohol poisoning. It can also put you at risk of being violent or experiencing violence.

Heavy alcohol use for a long time can cause:

It can also cause problems at home, work, and with friends and family. Treatment can help. Call 211 for support from the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline.

A standard drink is equal to 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. This amount of pure alcohol is often 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).

Standard drink sizes can be helpful for following health guidelines. They may not equate to how much you're served though. A mixed drink, for example, can include one, two, or more stand drinks. The type of spirit and recipe can make the drink much more than one standard drink.

You shouldn't drink alcohol at all if:

If you're not sure if it is safe for you to drink alcohol, talk to your health care provider.

A helpful first step is to look at your drinking habits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC has an alcohol screening tool: Check Your Drinking. Make a Plan to Drink Less.

These tips can also help you drink less:

  • Avoid the stronger stuffChoose drinks that are lower in alcohol. Try lighter beers under 4% alcohol by volume. You can also swap some or all your drinks for alcohol-free versions.
  • Beat boredomFind something fun to do, especially if drinking helps you deal with boredom or stress. Try exercising, cleaning, or doing a new hobby instead.
  • Change up your social plansSee your friends without going for drinks. Watch a film, meet for breakfast or coffee, go for a walk, or find another fun activity.
  • Decline a roundDon't feel required to join in a round of drinks, even if someone else buys. You can always have one next time.
  • Only wine while you dineCut down on how much you drink by having your first drink with your meal. Avoid drinking before, during, and after your meal.
  • Set a drinking budgetHave a budget to limit how much alcohol you buy. If you go out, take exact cash, or set a spending alert on your credit or debit card.

Learn why drinking less alcohol can help you be your best.

Alcohol by the numbers

View the data to learn about how alcohol impacts people in Wisconsin.

Adults and alcohol use in Wisconsin

Research from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive shows facts about adults and alcohol in Wisconsin.

  • Wisconsin ranks third in the country for the percent of adults who currently drink alcohol:
  1. Washington D.C. (68.7%)
  2. New Hampshire (64.6%)
  3. Wisconsin (64.4%)
  • More Wisconsin adults report current alcohol use in the past 30 days (64.8%) than the U.S. average (55.1%).
  • When Wisconsin adults drink, they drink more often and have more alcohol than adults in other states. They drink an average of 2.6 standard drinks when they drink.
  • Only 37.9% of Wisconsin adults who binge drink think they put themselves at risk.

The graphs below show how effects from alcohol are becoming a growing problem in the state.

Underage drinking in Wisconsin

Research from the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (PDF) shows facts about youth and alcohol in Wisconsin.

  • Youth in Wisconsin (12.7%) aren't binge drinking more than the U.S. youth average (13.7%).
  • Wisconsin youth think binge drinking is less risky than youth across the nation.
  • People who start binge drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to meet criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. Drinking alcohol also interferes with brain development.

The graph below shows that in the past few years, youth drinking has started to decrease. Prevention efforts should focus on the low perception of risk related to alcohol.

Alcohol data dashboards

Select a link to view more data about alcohol use in Wisconsin.

Prevent underage drinking

Small Talks is our effort to reduce how many kids drink alcohol before age 21. We encourage adults to regularly chat with kids about the dangers of underage drinking.

Learn more about Small Talks

Small talks logo

Driver sober or get pulled over

Drunk driving is one of the most deadly crimes in the state. Wisconsin's TwinStunts freestyle stunt team wants you to know it's never safe to drive (or ride) after drinking. Watch the video below.

Get the free Drive Sober app from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. It helps you choose a driver, find a ride, and more. 

Driver Sober app from the Apple App Store

Drive Sober app from Google Play store

Last revised June 24, 2023