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Digging Deeper: How does a drinking culture impact Eau Claire

Eau Claire (WQOW) — Consistently, Wisconsin ranks near the top of the list when it comes to over-drinking, and while some may take pride in the drinking culture, others find it troubling.

So, can excessive drinking impact a city, and how is it affecting Eau Claire?

‘Drink Wisconsin-ably’, ‘You’ve got to stay warm somehow’, ‘Drink up, you’re in Wisconsin’; we seem to have a lot of slogans why people in the Badger State should sip the suds.

“Wisconsin regularly has been nationally ranked one of the worst states for binge drinking, and Eau Claire is one of the worst counties in one of the worst states for binge drinking,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “In the U.S., one-in-six people when surveyed admit binge drinking. In Eau Claire County, it’s one in four.”

Chippewa Valley health officials told News 18 excessive alcohol use is one of their top three priorities because they know how it can drown a community.

“It gets everybody. It’s not limited to just young people or just older people,” said Zach Couture, a registered nurse at the L.E. Phillips Libertas Center. “It’s everybody who it affects, from the relationships that you keep to the places you go. It’s something that’s all encompassing.”

“Alcohol misuse isn’t about the alcoholic family member that you have, it’s really about something much bigger than that, and it impacts all of us,” added Giese.

Experts at UW-Madison calculated the price Eau Claire pays for binge drinking. Giese told News 18 that amount was estimated at $1,600 a year for every person that lives in Eau Claire. That cost includes added health care costs and law enforcement expenses. That burden can bury our police force, who see safety impact of alcohol abuse.

“We’ve had issues of people walking into the wrong homes and that’s dangerous. It’s scary for the people that live there, and it’s also dangerous for the person,” said Deputy Chief Chad Hoyord, of the Eau Claire Police Department. “We’ve found people that were laying in the snow, it’s winter now, it’s getting cold out. Somebody that passes out in the snow and you don’t find them, they can freeze to death. We’ve had people that have drown in the river.”

“We have a culture that has encouraged alcohol use and encouraged binge drinking, and we don’t have many state policies that really say that’s not the healthiest choice,” claimed Giese.

Eau Claire recently passed an ordinance to curb public intoxication, but many want more community collaboration and education on the topic.

“We want people to be safe. We want people to have a good time. We want people to be part of this community, and I think we all have a responsibility for everyone that’s in this community,” said Hoyord.

“How you drink and why you drink alcohol is an important question, and our community sets up ways to make that healthier, or doesn’t set up ways to make that healthier,” added Giese.

Overall, they want to shift the view on drinking here in Eau Claire, and hopefully see major change across the state. Giese said, even though it won’t be simple, and the data won’t change quickly, she’s encouraged.

“I’m not saying ‘stop drinking’, I’m not saying that, but I’m saying what we need to do is we need to have responsible drinking,” said Hoyord.

Eau Claire has several community groups looking for ways to curb our binge burden, along with many resources to help those still struggling. You can find some of them listed below:

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Samantha Wensel

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