Wisconsin’s Drug and Alcohol Problems

Wisconsin’s drug and alcohol problems are on the rise. Our nation’s “dairy state”, known for its cheese production, was also the birthplace of escape artist Harry Houdini and renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wisconsin is home to picturesque farm scenes, harsh winters, and one of the best teams in the history of football, the Green Bay Packers! But Wisconsin has problems too – not the least of which are drug and alcohol related. For starters, the state ranks 34th in drug overdose mortality rates in the United States.

Wisconsin’s History

Wisconsin attracted settlers long before it became a state, working primarily in mining, lumber, and farming. It was admitted to the union in 1848 as the 30th state in the U.S. The population of Wisconsin has steadily risen from around 2.5 million people in 1914 to 5.74 million in 2013. The only times the population dipped were during World War II and in the early 1980s.

Like many states in the Midwest, Wisconsin has a relatively low rate of unemployment. This is in part due to the fact that products from the state are universally needed, such as dairy and agricultural products, paper, furniture, foodstuffs, and machinery. Wisconsin is also a large producer of beer, and reportedly has the highest percentage of drinkers and instances of drunk driving in the country. But overall, the state has a proud tradition of hardiness and honesty, and could be said to be part of the backbone of America.

Early Drug Problems in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has long had a love affair with beer, with many settlers making their own beer in the 1800’s. However, the state voted for Prohibition in 1919. By 1926, before Prohibition had ended on a national level, Wisconsin added a referendum that allowed the sale of beer with up to 2.75% alcohol content. By 1929, voters in Wisconsin repealed Prohibition completely – four years before national Prohibition ended.

Prohibition also opened the door for Chicago mobsters like Al Capone, who would vacation in Wisconsin. Not only is the state situated next to Illinois, there are also two lakes that connect it to Canada – making it an excellent spot for smuggling Canadian liquor into the U.S.

Gangsters from the Midwest stayed in Wisconsin well after Prohibition. Some infamous names that lived or vacationed in the state include Ralph Capone (brother of Al), Jimmy Hoffa, and Chicago boss Sam Giancana. Criminal activities evolved from bootlegging to narcotics trafficking and other illicit forms of commerce. By the early 1990’s, escalation of gang activity in both urban and rural communities prompted state authorities to form a special gangs unit.

The Drug Trade in Wisconsin

Alcohol abuse is one of Wisconsin’s largest drug problems. 2013 statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that heavy drinking in Wisconsin is above the national average and binge drinking among young women was the highest in the nation.

A fact sheet compiled by the White House reports that the main drugs abused among Wisconsin residents are:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription opioids
  • Heroin
  • Stimulants

A 2008 survey conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that half of the 75 drinkers they asked to take a breathalyzer test were unable to guess “how drunk” they were with any accuracy, with a significant number stating they were “ok to drive” when the test indicated otherwise.

This correlates with 2009 statistics provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The state has the highest rate of drunk driving in the nation with more that 26% of Wisconsin adults admitting they drove under the influence. The Department of Transportation also states that 36% of fatal traffic accidents in 2012 were alcohol related.

Youth Drug Problems in Wisconsin

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH), Wisconsin high school students are most likely to abuse the following drugs:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Inhalants 
  • Prescription opioids
  • Cocaine

Statistics also show that 35% of these minors were being provided alcohol by friends or family. Additionally, 9% of students surveyed reported driving a vehicle after drinking. Finally, 20% of high school students were offered illegal drugs on school property.

Drug & Alcohol Abuse in Today’s Wisconsin

According to statistics provided by the FBI, Wisconsin saw an uptick in drug abuse violations in 2012. The same statistics show that the state has also had fluctuating problems with public drunkenness. These and the above statistics show how severe the alcohol abuse problem is in Wisconsin.

A 2013 survey done by the Department of Human Services (DHS) lists alcohol as the most common drug for which people seek treatment in Wisconsin. The top five are:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Marijuana
  3. Heroin
  4. Prescription opioids
  5. Cocaine

Over 50% of public funding for rehabilitation in Wisconsin goes to helping those with an alcohol dependence problem. Wisconsin natives often claim that heavy or binge drinking are “part of the culture.” The DHS survey also shows that Wisconsin’s illicit drug use is above the national average at 9%, with the main contributors being marijuana and prescription opioids.

Solutions for a Drug-Free & Prosperous Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a beautiful state, full of lush farmland and great people. There is no reason it cannot work effectively toward being drug-free, and prosper even more as a result.

One of the things majorly hindering this objective is the extreme consumption of alcohol among those living in Wisconsin. This is a huge problem; children raised by parents who abuse alcohol are more likely to abuse not just alcohol but other drugs as well.

Youth drug and alcohol education is a vital step. Kids need to be given the facts. They watch television and music videos that glorify heavy alcohol consumption and have a hard time separating the image from reality. They also see their peers drinking and using. But if their parents are heavy drinkers or drug users it becomes even more confusing.

Children are the future of our society. We must show them that we as adults are able to refrain from substance abuse. It’s called leading by example. It takes hard work and it takes being conscientious. And it also means that we all should be able to have a great time without fermentation or chemicals.

Education and treatment work together. When someone has already become a slave to the pill, the needle or the bottle, effective rehabilitation should be available. And that is what I have dedicated my life to, along with the specialists at our rehabilitation facilities.

If you or someone you know has a drug or alcohol problem, get help. By doing so you are helping not just the addicted person, but the family, friends, and community at large. To curb drug and alcohol abuse and addiction in America, it is necessary to break the problem down – state by state, city by city, street by street, home by home, person by person. By helping the individual, we help the nation.



Wisconsin and the Repeal of Prohibition


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