Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red States

by TChris

Attention often focuses on the problems of urban America -- and there are problems aplenty, to be sure -- but sparsely populated areas of the country have their own problems, one of which is identified in a study reported today by the New York Times: boredom, an affliction that leads to binge drinking.

A federal government survey recently confirmed what residents of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas already knew: people there drink to excess, at very early ages, well above the national average. The survey, conducted over three years by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said south-central Wyoming led the nation with the highest rate of alcohol abuse by people age 12 and older. In Albany and Carbon counties, more than 30 percent of people under age 20 binge drink -- 50 percent above the national average.

Western red state kids turn to alcohol, and sometimes methamphetamine, to cope with "the boredom of the big empty." Megachurches apparently aren't filling the voids in their lives.

"We're a frontier culture, and people say, 'I work hard and I'll be damned if I'm not going to have a beer or two on the way home,' " said Rosie Buzzas, a Montana state legislator who also oversees alcohol counseling services in the western part of the state. "There's a church, a school, and 10 bars in every town."

Big cities are often riddled with problems, but they at least offer kids a variety of options to overcome boredom beyond getting trashed.

At the other end of the scale, some of the lowest areas for under-age binge drinking were in the nation's most densely packed cities -- parts of Washington, D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles. An earlier federal study found that rural youths ages 12 and 13 were twice as likely as urban youths to abuse alcohol.

Maybe it's time for western conservatives to rethink their vehement opposition to social programs like midnight basketball -- programs that give kids nondestructive alternatives to occupy their free time.

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  • Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#2)
    by Che's Lounge on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 09:45:28 AM EST
    Old Wisconsin saying: To be a town in WI you need 3 things, a school, a church, and a tavern.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#3)
    by magin on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 10:14:42 AM EST
    I don't think the Times reporter grew up in the West, because he seems a little too satisfied with the cop-out that Western states are so mind-numbingly dull that the only way to cope is to stay drunk. There's a very good reason people (including kids) drink more in Western states, and it's got nothing to do with boredom. In every town that sprang up around a trading post or a mine, the tavern was the social center of the town. These weren't towns with a church or a dance hall. If you wanted to see people, you went to the bar. It's where you go to see your friends, to relax, to meet new people, and to generally be a social human being. In any Western town, there's a long tradition linking alcohol to healthy social interaction. Of course, that attitude spreads down the generations; kids do what their parents do. I'm not saying that having kids drive around drunk is a good thing. I'm just saying that explaining it away as "boredom of the big empty" is a cop-out. Giving kids more things to do can't hurt, but we shouldn't expect that they'll just stop going to keggers just because there's another option. This is a question of how we're socialized, not how we spend our time.

    Isn't this where the meth "epidemic" started, as well?

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#4)
    by rdandrea on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 10:57:38 AM EST
    Gee, when I lived in Casper, WY, we didn't blame it on boredom. We blamed it on the incessant wind.

    Parents need to instill in their children a desire for lifelong learning, to use their imaginations, to write, sing, play music, to travel, experience new things, to be passionate about SOMETHING outside of themselves, whatever is necessary to evolve the mind and spirit beyond the limitations of the environment. My buddy spent a year living in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, where there is no opportunity, where the government continues squeezing them and squeezing them, where drinking and shooting and f*cking each other in swinging orgies is about all there is to social life. And, despite it being against their interests, and mostly because of misperceptions and misprojection, they all vote Republican. My buddy is not hardass liberal at all, but he was amazed by it.

    Never needed an excuse myself.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#10)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 06:33:31 PM EST
    et al - Well, I didn't grow up in the west, but it was a very small town. Did the kids drink? Some, more or less as a rite of passage. Were we bored? Between working on the farm, working a job in town, sports and school, I couldn't have spelled the word, much less been there. And I wasn't the exception. My take that this is just another excuse, and another government paid for useless study, and another chance for the Left to bash the country. rdandrea - You have an excellent point. Che - WI is a red state? njwatcher - I thought CA was the birthplace of the meth epidemic.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#11)
    by Johnny on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 06:55:58 PM EST
    Drinking in the midwest is as much a social event as it is a coping mechanism. The elephant in the room is the reservation drinking... But then again, this is an elaborate ploy by left wingers to have a chance to bash Bush and the nation ;) FWIW, anyone who has never lived in the midwest, never can understand the level to which beer and stuff penetrates the social order. Temperance is rare, very very rare. It is a rite of passage for many young men to get their first drink on a hunting trip, fishing trip... Seeing the number of beer cans littering the highways and bi-ways, even around hunting season is eye-opening. People do drink around here out of boredom, sheer frustration as well as "that's just what we do." Also, as much as I would like to blame it on being a red-state problem, alas... It is a midwest thing.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#12)
    by chemoelectric on Sat Sep 02, 2006 at 11:15:13 PM EST
    I think it's pretty funny that people voice their objection by claiming that binge drinking is big where they come from, too, as if it were impossible that anyone might drink even more than that. :)

    This confirms what I found when I went to college: kids from small town America were the ones already well-acquainted with alcohol, drugs, and sex, while the city kids far less so. (I grew up in rural OH, and counted myself in the former)

    Never needed an excuse myself.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#8)
    by terryhallinan on Sun Sep 03, 2006 at 12:33:51 AM EST
    Is Ireland a "big empty" too? A wonderful book written about life in the high desert Warner Valley in eastern Oregon by one of the scions of the Lords of the Valley described the immigrants as being from County Cork. My father was but most weren't. It is hardly unusual for the wealthy to have only little knowledge of the "lower classes." Loneliness and boredom is far more likely in crowded cities where the predators are far more likely to be two-legged. This blog was way off the mark in my humble opinion. It smacks of an uncomprehending elitism that I find most unpleasant among very enlightened writers.

    Re: Boredom and Binge Drinking in the Western Red (none / 0) (#13)
    by roger on Sun Sep 03, 2006 at 06:38:07 AM EST
    Binge drinking is bad. You should drink all the time

    Terry, While there is merit in what you say, I challenge you to find a tiny town in the middle of the farm belt like the one my buddy lived in, reside there for a year, then come back and tell us about it and the people and their rituals. Romanticizing the lower classes is also very easy to do from a distance when your instinct is to sympathize with them over the wealthy (which is my instinct, too.) But it doesn't mean we're looking at them in an honest or comprehensive way. As for loneliness, it can happen anywhere. Boredom is an entirely separate issue.