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A La Crosse County coalition’s decade of community education and policy advocacy to curb excessive drinking acknowledges that, despite successes, work remains to be done to curb the social and economic costs of a $105 million-a-year problem.

That observation is included in the final “Burden of Risky Alcohol Use in La Crosse County” report to the community, which the Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Coalition will release Thursday.

Catherine Kolkmeier mug


“Risky alcohol use results in costs to a community at many levels,” said Catherine Kolkmeier, executive director of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium, which was the coalition’s fiscal agent and organizer.

“It has been important to take a broad approach to reducing that burden,” she said.

“We’re seeing some positive trends, but it’s still very clear how risky alcohol use affects people and the community,” Kolkmeier said.

Individual costs include risks to physical and mental health, citations, injuries and death, she said.

Societal costs include use of emergency rooms and hospitals resulting from injuries and related health issues, as well as burdens on law enforcement, courts, highway departments and municipal services resulting from motor vehicle crashes, property damage, violent deaths such as homicides and suicides and enforcement of liquor laws.

The economic cost of excessive alcohol use in the county is $105 million a year, which equates to $915.72 a person, including all ages, according to the report.

More than 74 percent of this cost is the result of binge drinking, and federal, state and local governments must cover 40 percent of the costs, the report says.

The report takes into account both binge drinking and underage drinking in the county, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest binge drinking rates in the state.

Alcohol use among middle school students is low, with less than 5 percent reporting use within the past 30 days and fewer than 2 percent acknowledging binge drinking, according to the report.

The study also chronicles declines among college students and adults, with some notable exceptions among women older than 50.

However, the increase in 30-day use of alcohol and binge drinking between high school and college was significant: 19 percent of high school students reported 30-day use, compared with 66.7 percent of college students. Similarly, 11 percent of high school students reported binge drinking, compared with 35 percent of college students.

The heavy drinking rate of 5 percent was lower than the state average of 7 percent and lower than the national rate, the report found.

Heavy drinking increased with age and was higher among women older than 50. It was 3½ times higher among women older than 65.

Alcohol-related citations and vehicle crashes among young people have declined, although the county’s vehicle crash rate has increased slightly for all ages and remains higher than the state average.

Injuries resulting from risky alcohol use are the most common reasons young people go to emergency departments, with self-inflicted wounds being the most prevalent for adults over 25, according to the report.

Deaths resulting from risky alcohol use have increased significantly, with 25 percent of violent deaths involving individuals who had reported alcohol problems during their lives, according to the report.

Indications are that heavy drinking might be a factor in suicides, with 16 percent of males who took their own lives between 2010 and 2014 having blood-alcohol contents above the state standard for driving while intoxicated at the time of death. Among females, 30 percent of those who took their own lives had blood-alcohol levels above that standard of 0.08 percent.

Brenda Rooney


“We were very encouraged to see the improvements in risky drinking behavior among our youngest community members at the same time as we are seeing stronger support from our community for strategies that we believe will improve the culture,” said Brenda Rooney, the lead author of the report and who helped craft the coalition’s first grant request more than 10 years ago.

“This shift in attitudes should reinforce a less risky drinking culture in the future,” said Rooney, who also is medical director of Gundersen Health System’s Community and Preventive Care Services.

The coalition recently celebrated its 10th anniversary before passing the baton to other community groups because its funding ran out.

Among those picking up the ball are:

The Gateway Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America assumed coordination of the Oktoberfest Family Zone during Oktoberfest’s Maple Leaf Parade.

The Parents Who Host initiative that aims to halt underage drinking is continuing under the auspices of the La Crosse County Prevention Network.

Members of the La Crosse Police Department picked up the duty to provide Responsible Beverage Service Training, which trained nearly 500 bartenders and hotel/restaurant servers and more than 400 volunteer servers for Oktoberfest and Riverfest. The city council approved the addition of $5 to each bar license to buy materials for the training.

The coalition’s community education and policy change initiatives were funded in part with grants from the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program of the Medical College of Wisconsin. The burden report was issued several times during the course of the project, with the first coming in 2008, another in 2012 and a partial update in 2015.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(13) comments

union conservative

Many may think this figure is unbelievable but in reality with all the hoops people have to jump through to get help is incredible. The numbers of jobs created costs a huge amount. Social workers, a number of different (named) counselors, doctors, ect all cost money not to mention other resources out there. The money could be cut by eliminating all the hoops. The success rate would rise because the people needing the help would not have to wait for another date to meet with the next (helper) in the chain. Of course most of this I'm speaking of is in the government and at the county level.


Exactly, people here are programmed to binge drink BECAUSE it's good for business....a 100 million dollar revenue stream. Legal and taxed marijuana could provide funding for alcohol and opiate abuse (over $100 million across the state), but that would threaten current revenue streams, and jobs. Wisconsin citizens are simply too stupid as a whole (programmed this way) to understand that the tragic social side effects of alcohol and painkillers stem from regional corporations, government, and hospitals.

The opioid epidemic and Gundersen Lutheran are a great example:

-Doctors write prescriptions for OxyContin/Vicodin.
-Pharmacies (some Gundersen owns) fills the prescriptions, make about $100 per bottle.
-Consumers become addicted, and are 'cut off' by Gundersen.
-Consumers are now addicts and purchase heroin/fentynl etc. on the street
-Law enforcement arrests addicts; courts require them to be treated by...Gundersen.
-Blame is diverted, via legislation/media, on street dealers.

The alcohol situation is a similar process, the difference being corporations like Kwik Trip, and alcohol distributors supply and promote binge drinking...KT forces children to look at affordable handles of hard alcohol when they check out. Think about it once.


smh.. doesn't sound right

LaCrosse Lady

It’s not only drunk driving - it’s the alcohol driven domestic abuse, children born with alcohol fetal syndrome, or children just plain felt unparented ending up back in the system later on as criminals. Such children are often dependent on social $$ services for their entire life.

As for Pot - I think legalize it for medical use. But research the long term effects BEFORE it’s made legal. Because of its drug classification it really hasn’t been studied truly in-depth by reputable independent researchers. You can’t trust evidence from people with a vested interest in the findings. Look at all those studies by tobacco industry denying it causes cancer or is addictive. Or the studies by big oil denying climate change.

I recently read a study showing pot damages sperm but they had not researched yet the effects on babies born from the sperm.

We should do these things first.


Good viewpoint...but if alcohol and cigarettes are legal, there's really no argument for marijuana criminalization, other than police wanting the money it generates, and it gives them the ability to arrest minorities and hippies.


I don't think we can totally quantify in dollars the impact of alcohol abuse in La Crosse County or the region. What about the lost lives to drunk driving? The emotional pain and suffering of family/friends. The financial impact on their families of lost wages, the costs of their funerals, settling their estates, etc. What about spousal abuse, both male and females are victims, that alcohol triggers, or to their children who lose out on food, clothing, proper shelter, when income sources go to feed the alcohol or drug habits. What about employer's lost productivity from alcoholic/drug dependent employees, their absence or workplace accidents that occur?


This article fails to share the reality with readers, and hints at the dark side of La Crosse that is unconstitutional to citizens. Now that you've read the article, re-read it again and replace the words "100 million dollar problem" with "100 million dollar revenue stream."

La Crosse is consistently on the "top 10 drinking cities in the USA" list, and usually there's 4 or 5 other cities on that list from Wisconsin. Fact. To say there have been "successes" is a sham, because we keep making that list nationally. The negative social side effects of alcohol fiscally benefit our lawyers, the police, the media, alcohol distributors, bars, social workers, hospitals, and much much more; while bleeding money out of the working and poor classes.

For example, Kwik Trip sells "binge-drinking" kits at their counters (ping pong balls with red solo cups, etc.), and forces consumers to look at flasks of affordable hard alcohol every time they check out. Imagine being a struggling alcoholic and having to check out at Kwik Trip. Gundersen Lutheran and Mayo are among the most profitable hospital system in the USA (a fact their spinsters try to deny to our local community through local propaganda), how much of that profit comes from the $105 million revenue stream? The police here benefit greatly from alcohol problems, because they have a blank check from taxpayers to enforce the laws in the chaos, receive enforcement grants, and have job security via a revenue stream....

Alcohol, prescription pills, and heroin have decimated our state. We are a joke to other parts of the country that have curbed binge drinking, because corporations and government continue to depend on it as a revenue stream here. Gundersen, Mayo, our police departments, Kwik Trip, are all well funded by the culture it promotes to the's a revenue stream, not a 'problem'.

Here's a solution already working in other parts of our country: legalize marijuana (harm reduction for hard substance abuse), tax it (Colorado gets about $180 million per year in tax revenue), and apply the revenue to curbing binge drinking and the heroin epidemic (which was created by our hospitals, whom over-prescribed opioids).


BS!! I would love to see an itemized list of expenses they used to come up with this unbelievable figure!!


This study and the cost seem to make a good case for banning alcohol. The costs far out weigh the need for taking away a citizens gun rights. We know more people participate in drinking alcohol, distorting their thinking and actions than a few unstable mental cases. The people drinking know up front what they are doing unti they don't, you can not say the same for the mentally ill. Drugs and alcohol are things that make a normal person have the same problems a mentally ill person has which is to say it can assist you to do unsavory things, drive, aggressive behavior, obstructed reasoning, physical challenges, things a person would never do when not using alcohol. If seems to give a person the same mental capacity as the mentally unstable. Why would we want to do that.


Banning alcohol didn't work the first time it was tried. It did give us John F Kennedy.

LaCrosse Lady

So - does the $$$ brought in by Octoberfest sound like it’s worth it anymore? Less bars and more family oriented festivals without beer tents as the main activity. Plus stories of people with more than 3 dui’s is bad - but those with 10 are insane. At what point do they actually have to stay locked up for a while? Or at least seize their cars and sell them.


3 DUI strikes and you're out. Why should we give people who drink and drive unlimited opportunities to injure or kill somebody while they are drunk?
I view prisons as places where we separate those convicted of crimes from society for the protection of society and it's time to start that with convicted drunk drivers. It's time to go to prison.
No, we shouldn't ban alcohol (been there, done that, it didn't work) but there's no reason to promote drinking as an important part of community festivals.
Life is so much about choices and consequences and it's well past time to make those who choose to drink to the point of being drunk and drive pay severe consequences for that choice.


I think your heart is in the right place, but your comment shifts the discussion to DUIs, which is different than binge-drinking. I believe in 'self-determination' the individual's right to make poor choices....however, when regional wealthy corporations, government, non-profit organizations (Oktoberfest USA) and mass media (advertisers) work together to promote a culture of binge drinking, it's unethical and unconstitutional to citizens. Need a sponsor for your local event or team? Chances are an alcohol-related business is happy to chip in. Can't find a babysitter but want to go to a bar? Totally fine to bring the kiddo in...heck, we buy kiddie cocktails. Most of us living here were encouraged to binge drink our entire lives, from early years to teen years to adult years. The deck was stacked. How many times have you said, "so-and-so, was so smart and talented, but drinking and drugs..." it's a way to create low paid laborers, and a revenue stream from the lower class to the government, lawyers, hospitals, and more. Yes, lock up people dangerous to society...but we need to question how these people were programmed to reach that point. Y'all are being duped by the vice lords of the coulee region, straight up. There was a billboard on Lang Drive a few years ago that stated, " driving drunk, you just blew $10,000"...this confirms that it is a revenue stream. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Uber and Lyft will be banned in La Crosse, because they are contributing to lower DUI numbers, less revenue. Free samples of hard alcohol are available while shopping nowadays.

If this sounds like a stretch, ask yourself the questions, "Who overprescribed the OxyContin and Vicodin to citizens of the Coulee Region? Who owns the pharmacies that profited $100 per bottle (!) from OxyContin prescriptions, and didn't speak up? Who 'cut off' these prescriptions and forced users into the black market (heroin, fentnyl)?" Who runs the court-ordered treatment programs for these folks, after they've been processed by law enforcement?"

It's going to take maverick doctors, judges, pharmacists, police officers, faith-based leaders, government officials, and executives to curb La Crosse's addiction issues....the systems are rigged to fuel vice here, it's quite obvious.

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