In Wisconsin, "alcohol is king" and leaders condemn its reign of destruction

Excessive drinking exacts a heavy toll on the health and economy of Wisconsin, and taking action to reduce it will require more awareness of its impacts, according to panelists at a Wisconsin Health News event.

“In Wisconsin, alcohol is king,” said John Hyatt, CEO of IMPACT, a Milwaukee nonprofit that helps screen and assess people seeking treatment. “Amid all of the other tragedy around fentanyl and heroin and opioids, which tend to catch the headline, alcohol is … slow, silent, painful. (It) leaves the path of tragedy behind it. And it’s just part of this drinking culture that we have.” 


Ascension Wisconsin started a screening program for unhealthy alcohol use, along with brief interventions, in response to community surveys showing alcohol and drug misuse as top health priorities across the state, said Dr. Paul Hartlaub, medical director of primary care quality at Ascension Medical Group.


Hartlaub said overconsumption of alcohol can lead to injuries, violence and death from acute intoxication.It's a risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancers, depression and can cause damage to the liver, nerves and brain. 


“Over the long haul, it can have a lot of health effects,” he said. 


Maureen Busalacchi, director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said that binge drinking is probably the largest driver of "a lot of harm and cost." A 2019 report showed it drove three-quarters of excessive alcohol consumption economic cost. 


Targeting binge drinking presents an “opportunity” to align the state's culture, regulation and policies to reach a “healthier level of consumption instead of this excessive consumption of alcohol,” she said.


A state council earlier this year released 61 recommendations aimed at reducing high alcohol use.


“If we enacted all of those, most people who go and have a couple of drinks with friends would never even notice,” she said. “But it would definitely have an impact on that binge drinking and that excessive alcohol use.” 


Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said change has to start at a grassroots level, with communities looking at their rates of underage and binge drinking. 


“Too many of us still see alcohol as part and parcel of our economic development, of our social scene,” he said. “We need to start chipping away at that narrative before the Legislature will go anywhere near it, to be very blunt." 

Need help?

IMPACT conducts free, comprehensive assessments to determine an appropriate level of care, and connects clients to a treatment program and recovery support services. Available in person or over the phone, our Access Point team offers a pleasant and professional experience where clients feel supported, motivated and engaged. For more information, call (414)649-4380.

Jazmine Mora-Moreno (pictured far right) represented IMPACT as a guest presenter at the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives. As IMPACT's Health System Liaison, Jazmine shared insights from her work on the Housing is Health initiative.

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