It is a story that will find difficulty breaking through the headlines of a major war in Eastern Europe and the historic confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court justice. But the increase in alcohol-related deaths in America deserves our attention.
Almost a million people in the United States have died of Covid-19 in the past two years, but the full impact of the pandemic’s collateral damage is still being tallied. Now a new study reports that the number of Americans who died of alcohol-related causes increased precipitously during the first year of the pandemic, as routines were disrupted, support networks frayed and treatment was delayed.
The startling report comes amid a growing realization that Covid’s toll extends beyond the number of lives claimed directly by the disease to the excess deaths caused by illnesses left untreated and a surge in drug overdoses, as well as to social costs like educational setbacks and the loss of parents and caregivers.
The topic of abusing alcohol is one that from time to time finds its way to this blog. One local source of frustration is the number of drinking establishments, in spite of knowing the social cost associated with alcohol consumption.
When a young man who was seriously intoxicated several years ago was shot and killed in the Marquette Neighborhood I thought perhaps as a community we could come together and focus on bars that over-serve customers and also start a serious dialogue on the number of drinking establishments we want to have in this mixed-use neighborhood. Clearly, my idea landed with a thud as resounding as the emptying of beer bottles behind a bar at 3:00 A.M. Too many wanted to talk about police misconduct and not address the 800-pound gorilla in the room that was the larger social problem with drinking in our culture.
The problem we face does not start with a business model that relies on alcohol sales but rather begins with the face that greets you in the mirror each morning. For too long too many have just accepted that we need to have alcohol at every place food is served, or we have allowed eating places to be the cover for just another place to sell a drink. We all are a part of the problem and now need to own it.
In June 2021 the local listserv for the Marquette Neighborhood presented some facts and data that made for much discussion. As the compilator of the numbers alerted readers on the listserv the data is 95% accurate.
The neighborhood has 6,105 residents in 2010, (12.2 % of which were age 17 or younger)? Knocking off the under age 17 leaves 5,360 residents.
Did you know that there currently exists 4,431 seats where one can get a drink in the neighborhood (plus event places including Elks, Sylvee, Old Sugar’s event space)?
Did you know that of those alcohol seats, there are 2,458 where one can be entertained (1,514 of those seats are on E Washington)? That no Williamson Street entertainment establishment has a capacity greater than 99 (now that Prism is gone)?
4,735 capacity for drinking
2,302 capacity for primarily drinking/entertainment
1,822 capacity for licensed entertainment establishments
I know I am not the only one who finds the drinking culture in Wisconsin troublesome, and yet at times, I feel like an island on the issue. To be frank and honest about it I think the drinking culture is embarrassing. I would rather our state be touted for stem cell research and the home of Lynn Fontanne than endless drunken parties and Milwaukee beer.
Finally, for those who wish to better understand the larger issues regarding drinking in our culture, I would urge The Atlantic article which explores the matter in detail.
Over the decades, scientists have proposed many theories as to why we still drink alcohol, despite its harms and despite millions of years having passed since our ancestors’ drunken scavenging. Some suggest that it must have had some interim purpose it’s since outlived. (For example, maybe it was safer to drink than untreated water—fermentation kills pathogens.) Slingerland questions most of these explanations. Boiling water is simpler than making beer, for instance.
Being an adult requires being able to cope with life sober-minded. There are also professionals to talk with at points in life when issues need to be addressed. When both of my parents died I reached out to talk with someone who allowed me to understand grief and work through it. I never had a single drink at either of their passings. In fact, that notion never even crossed my mind.
What I do know is the data shows what impact sitting for hours with a bent elbow does to society. I wish my college-educated and progressive neighborhood would grasp that fact, too.
And so it goes.