Western states like Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota have binge-drinking levels far higher than the national average, and local experts say that boredom plays a huge role in the problem, the New York Times reported Sept. 2.
South-central Wyoming, for example, has the highest binge-drinking rate in the U.S., according to federal researchers; in Albany and Carbon counties, 30 percent of residents age 12 and older are binge drinkers.
Teens and adults alike say that often there is little to do in these rural states other than partying. “I think so many kids drink because the state is barren, desolate and boring to some people, and there is not really anything to do,” said Cheyenne resident and recent high-school graduate Isiah Spigner. Karen Grimm, whose daughter, Risa, is a freshman at Cody (Wyo.) High School, agreed, saying, “After living in the city, it’s obvious to me that kids just get bored here. There is this feeling of isolation, especially in the wintertime.”
The “frontier mentality” of regional residents also plays a role in excessive drinking, experts say. “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 Montana state lawmaker and addiction expert Rosie Buzzas. “There’s a church, a school, and 10 bars in every town.”
Alcohol access also is easy, and many parents have relaxed attitudes about youth drinking. Local laws regarding alcohol are similarly lax: Wyoming does not prohibit passengers in a car from drinking, for example, and youths caught drinking underage don’t usually lose their driver’s licenses.
Ralph Boerner, an addiction counselor in Butte, Mont., says that binge drinking is part of the macho youth culture of the West. “The idea that life is harsh and you learn it at an early age is part of our history,” he said. “I asked everyone in my group the other night when they started drinking. The latest was 15. The earliest was age 5.”
Younger children, especially girls, often start out drinking so-called “alcopops.” “People who want to get wasted but don’t like the taste of beer, they’re drinking something like Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” said Sienna White, a sophomore at Cody High School.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward, who also went to Cody High School, doubts that programs like school sobriety pledges are enough to overcome so many obstacles. “Obviously we’ve all been there,” said Steward. “The problem, then and now, was that there was nothing to do in Cody after a certain time.”