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The Drunkest States in America

Can Your State Hold Its Liquor?


This fall, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released a comprehensive study of alcohol consumption per capita for every state in the U.S. as of 2007. Essentially, the NIAAA gathered up data on alcohol sales for each state and then divided it by census population numbers, including any person 14 or older (can’t forget all those underage drinkers). The results are broken down into consumption of beer, wine and spirits, so you can learn if people in different states are more likely to be beer guzzlers or wine snobs.

Keep in mind that these numbers are based on alcohol sales in each state, so we can’t say for sure who is drinking what, just what people are buying. The original study listed alcohol consumption in terms of ethanol (or pure alcohol). So we crunched some numbers to get you data in terms you can drop in to cocktail party conversations. Here you’ll find how many gallons of alcohol are consumed by the average person in each state, and how many cans of beer (16 oz.) and bottles of wine (25 oz.) that translates to.

Want to hear our discussion of the ranking? Click here.

Photo Credit: wickenden

America Gets Its Drink On


In 2007, the average American bought 31.6 gallons of alcoholic beverages. This amount has been rising gradually since the start of the decade, with the biggest growth occurring in the amount of wine and spirits being purchased. In 2000, for example, the average American purchased just more than 12 bottles of wine, while in 2007, they purchased 15 bottles.

Still, the majority of alcohol consumption is from beer. The average Americans bought 26.9 gallons of beer in 2007, which works out to be about 215 cans (if each cans was 16 oz, or one pint).

We’ll start with the 10 most sober states and move on to the 10 drunkest, ranked by the volume of alcoholic beverages purchased.

10th Least Drunk State: Ohio


Ohioans may have one of the best party schools in their state and love their college football, but apparently they are better at moderating the amount of alcohol they drink than most other states in the country. Way to go, Ohio. You've got class.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 32.6 gallons per person

Beer: 236 cans per person

Wine: 9.9 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.1 gallons per person

9th Least Drunk State: Alabama


Some citizens in Alabama are so against drinking that they actually held a vote to reinstate prohibition in one city. The vote failed, mainly due to a feared financial backlash from lost alcohol sales. Alabama is also one of the few states in the country that fines people who drink beer with more than 6% alcohol.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 30.6 gallons per person

Beer: 220 cans per person

Wine: 8.7 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.4 gallons per person

8th Least Drunk State: West Virginia


Like Alabama, West Virginia forbids its inhabitants from buying beer that’s more than 6% alcohol by volume. However, earlier this year the government overturned that law and raised the alcohol limit to 13.9%. So perhaps this state is loosening up.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 29.3 gallons per person

Beer: 220.4 cans per person

Wine: 3.96 bottles per person

Spirits: 1 gallon per person

7th Least Drunk State: North Carolina


North Carolinians may drink less beer and hard liquor on average than most of the country, but apparently they love their wines. Each person drinks more than 11 bottles on average, which makes sense given all the beautiful vineyards in the state.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 29.3 gallons per person

Beer: 206.2 cans per person

Wine: 11.1 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.4 gallons per person

6th Least Drunk State: Oklahoma


Oklahoma is notorious among liquor lovers for enforcing the almost unreasonably low alcohol rate of 3.2%. People have complained that their alcoholic beverages are too watered-down to be worth drinking. With that in mind, we’re surprised people in Oklahoma buy as many bottles of beer as they do. We would switch to wine instead.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 28.9 gallons per person

Beer: 209.8 cans per person

Wine: 6.8 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.4 gallons per person

5th Least Drunk State: Kansas


Kansas has some of the toughest liquor laws on the books, including restrictions on shipping alcohol and store hours. Despite these laws and the comparatively low rate of alcohol consumption, Kansas did have one of the largest increases in drunk driving deaths in 2007. Then again, Kansas did rank in the top three of our Happiness Index, which may mean they’re doing something right.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 28.7 gallons per person

Beer: 208 cans per person

Wine: 5.9 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.5 gallons per person

4th Least Drunk State: Tennessee


This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Think about it: Al Gore is pretty much the most famous person to come from Tennessee. When is the last time you’ve seen him drink anything?

Total Alcohol Consumed: 28 gallons per person

Beer: 200.9 cans per person

Wine: 7.9 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.4 gallons per person

3rd Least Drunk State: Arkansas


Like Kansas, Arkansas has tough restrictions on when and where alcohol can be sold. For example, in 2007, only businesses that earned the majority of their revenue from food sales could sell liquor on Sundays, and only if citizens approved it in local elections. Some might think it’s unfortunate that the state doesn’t appreciate alcohol more given some of its fine microbreweries and wineries.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 26.6 gallons per person

Beer: 190 cans per person

Wine: 6.7 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.5 gallons per person

2nd Least Drunk State: Kentucky


Kentucky may be a God-fearing state but it seems to fear alcohol the most, which is surprising given it’s the home of Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon. In this state, wine is lumped together with hard liquor. In fact, there are restrictions on the books that essentially prevent grocery stores from selling wine. More recently, there has been talk of prohibiting alcohol advertisements in certain counties. But even with all of that, they are still a drunker state per capita than the number one state on our list…

Total Alcohol Consumed: 26.2 gallons per person

Beer: 186 cans per person

Wine: 6.7 bottles per person

Spirits: 1.5 gallons per person

The Least Drunk State: Utah


Let’s just call it the designated driver state. Because of state restrictions (and the heavy hand of the Mormon church), it was nearly impossible to bar hop in Utah. Basically, any bar that served beverages with more than 3.2% alcohol in them had to register as a private club. That was the case until the state finally eliminated this odd law in the middle of this year.

But as of 2007, in order to visit one of these “private clubs,” you actually had to buy a membership. Beyond that, there are still strict limits on how much alcohol you can be served at any given time. So, Utah, we’d like to toast your achievement at becoming the most sober state in the nation. Congratulations and ... uhhh ... cheers.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 18.9 gallons per person

Beer: 133 cans per person

Wine: 6.4 bottles per person

Spirits: 1 gallon per person

And the 10 Most Intoxicated States Are...


Now that we've finished with the straight-edge states, here are the 10 drunkest states in the country...

10th Drunkest State: Colorado


This year, nearly 50,000 people gathered in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, the largest commercial beer competition in the world. Time magazine declared Colorado the best place in the country to tour amazing breweries, dubbing it the “Napa of beer.” And, of course, who could forget about Coors, the Rocky Mountain beer?

Total Alcohol Consumed: 34.7 gallons per person

Beer: 229 cans per person

Wine: 18.7 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.4 gallons per person

9th Drunkest State: Alaska


Let’s just say that when you live that far north, of course you’re going to need a couple gallons of hard alcohol each year to warm yourself. In particular, Alaska is known for its ales and barley wines.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 35.4 gallons per person

Beer: 234.6 cans per person

Wine: 17.9 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.6 gallons per person

8th Drunkest State: Wyoming


People in Wyoming start drinking early, and they drink hard. According to one study from this year, teens who drink in this state tend to ditch beer and go straight for the harder stuff. In addition to having the University of Wyoming, a well-known party school, the drinking culture here is propped up by the state’s extremely low alcohol tax, at just 2 cents. Wyoming has the lowest tax rate on beer in the country (except for the drunkest state, which has no alcohol tax at all).

Total Alcohol Consumed: 37.6 gallons per person

Beer: 264.9 cans per person

Wine: 9.1 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.7 gallons per person

7th Drunkest State: Delaware


Delaware is responsible for one of the best craft brews out there, Dogfish Head. On top of that, the University of Delaware is the ultimate party school, thanks to its college football team and some crazy fraternities. But sometimes the parties go too far. Delaware students offended plenty of people when then held drinking parties where they dressed up as immigrants. Predictably, many fraternities have engaged in pretty hard-core hazing.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 38.5 gallons per person

Beer: 247 cans per person

Wine: 23.4 bottles per person

Spirits: 3 gallons per person

6th Drunkest State: North Dakota


What else is there to do in North Dakota besides drink? There are only so many times you can drive to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. But if you do drink in North Dakota, don’t buy any pretzels. We hear that it’s illegal to drink alcohol and eat pretzels at the same time in any bar in that state.

Clearly, all that drinking hasn’t hurt the state too much, as it was ranked one of the top 10 happiest states in the country, according to our Happiness Index.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 39.3 gallons per person

Beer: 279.1 cans per person

Wine: 9.1 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.6 gallons per person

5th Drunkest State: Wisconsin


It should be no surprise that Wisconsin is in the top five. This state traditionally ranks high on any list that involves alcohol. Milwaukee was ranked the number one drunkest city by Forbes in 2006. On top of that, the United Health Foundation recently released a report ranking the 50 states in terms of binge drinking, and Wisconsin was the worst. Nearly a quarter of the population has reported drinking too much. They are also number one for driving under the influence. Stay classy, Wisconsin.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 39.5 gallons per person

Beer: 273.8 cans per person

Wine: 13.1 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.7 gallons per person

4th Drunkest State: Montana


Word has it that the youth of Montana are rowdy and reckless and love their booze. In 2007, one study found that nearly 20,000 students in ninth through 12th grade were binge-drinking. On a lighter note, there are plenty of great breweries and festivals that take place in Montana, making this a haven for drinkers.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 40.1 gallons per person

Beer: 282.6 cans per person

Wine: 13.9 bottles per person

Spirits: 2.1 gallons per person

3rd Drunkest State: District of Columbia


People in D.C. (yes, we know it's not a state) clearly love their wine. The average person here purchases almost 40 bottles of vino each year, by far the most on our list. Although keep in mind that we’re talking about alcohol consumption in 2007. There was an election on and the recession hadn’t yet fully hit. So people were still partying. We’re guessing that much of this statistic is driven by lobbyists taking our senators and congressman out for fancy meals.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 41.6 gallons per person

Beer: 240 cans per person

Wine: 39.3 bottles per person

Spirits: 3.9 per person

2nd Drunkest State: Nevada


No doubt Sin City plays a big role in Nevada's drinking habits. Yet even residents of towns outside of Las Vegas have plenty of reason to drink these days. Nevada has been hit harder than most states by the recession, with the worst foreclosure rates in the country.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 46 gallons per person

Beer: 304 cans per person

Wine: 25.4 bottles per person

Spirits: 3.1 gallons per person

The Drunkest State: New Hampshire


New Hampshire is a drinker’s paradise. It has the highest per capita sales of beer and spirits on our list, and it’s largely because of one reason: The state does not have a tax on its alcohol. So people in and out of state flock to its liquor stores for cheaper booze. Yet New Hampshire has managed to turn a vice into a virtue. According to the Wall Street Journal, the state “derives more revenue from wine and liquor sales than any other non-tax source.” Congratulations, New Hampshire, you’re the booziest state in the nation.

Total Alcohol Consumed: 48.7 gallons per person

Beer: 309.3 cans per person

Wine: 29.4 bottles per person

Spirits: 4.3 gallons per person

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