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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Minnesota is conflicted over binge-drinking culture, consequences

Midwest leads nation

Minnesotans are conflicted over binge-drinking: They don't want legislators to increase taxes on alcohol, but they're beginning to realize that a drinking culture has deadly consequences.

2008-01-11
By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV Legislative Correspondent [broadcast on WCCO-TV, Minneapolis, MN, 1/10/2008]

When it comes to binge drinking, the Midwest is leading the nation.

This culture of drinking, especially among young people, is having some deadly consequences.

Just over the past four months, police say alcohol played a role in the deaths of three Minnesota college students.

In October, the 21-year-old Mankato student, Amanda Jax, was found dead after celebrating her birthday.

Two months later, Winona State University student Jenna Foellmi's body was found in what police call a classic case of binge drinking.

Then again in January, a 20-year-old St. Cloud State University student, Brian Threet, was found dead and his family believes alcohol was to blame.

Now, it seems binge drinking is getting the attention of state lawmakers and one major reason is because Minnesota's binge drinking ranks among the top three states in the country.

Ironically, in Minnesota alcohol use is going down, where binge drinking is seeing a noticeable increase.

Drinking is widely accepted socially and is hard to pinpoint when it crosses the line to binge drinking.

"I guess I would ask you all to answer a question: how much drinking is too much on any one occasion? Our society has great difficulty giving anyone a clear answer on that," said Robert Melson, of the Minnesota Association for Resources for Recovery.

Startling new data shows that Minnesota is home to more binge drinkers than almost anywhere in the nation -- including colleges -- where heavy drinking is normal.

"There is really not consensus that all of this extreme drinking in college is necessarily a harmful thing," said Carol Falkowski, of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Nationally, about 15 percent of adults say they have committed binge drinking, which is five or more drinks on one occasion.

However, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota are much higher -- 20 percent of adults and more say they binge drink. Lawmakers are hearing that the state is not doing enough to intervene early with young people to slow it down. One reason is that state budget cuts have severely curtailed these early intervention programs and chemical dependency treatments.

Studies show that 40 percent of people who start drinking at age 15 develop alcoholism.

Minnesotans are conflicted about one of the most effective ways to decrease access -- raise the price of alcohol.

Another solution that lawmakers are looking at are ways to ramp up early intervention programs similar to the tobacco programs.

For Pat Kessler's WCCO-TV story, go to http://wcco.com/local/binge.drinking.minnesota.2.627341.html

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