Party ’til you pop Charleston gets nod as 4th drinkingest city in the United States

“We certainly have a challenge because we have so many bars and so many people in such a confined space,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said of the city’s ranking. Buy this photo

It’s off to the art opening with a glass of wine, the concert with a bar in the lobby, the oyster roast with its coolers of cold PBRs.

Top 10 tipplers

1. Boston

2. Norfolk, Va.

3. Milwaukee

4. Charleston

5. Austin, Texas

6. Hartford-New Haven, Conn.

7. New Orleans

8. Chicago

9. Washington

10. Providence, R.I.

Source: The Daily Beast

Doin’ the Charleston is a liquid leisure — at least according to The Daily Beast, an online magazine published by the Newsweek company. The Beast just rated the city the 4th Drunkest in the United States, based on a few indicators like drinks consumed per month and percentage of residents who are binge drinkers or heavy drinkers.

Making the list

Charleston (fourth)

15.3 average drinks per month consumed per adult

17.3 percent of population classified binge drinkers

8.7 percent of population classified heavy drinkers

Boston (first)

15.6 drinks per month

20.1 percent binge drinkers

7.4 percent heavy drinkers

Source: The Daily Beast (Experian Marketing Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

So, unlike Most Polite City or No. 1 Tourist Destination honors, this “honor” is warts and all.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has bumped elbow to elbow down King Street on a weekend night trying to find the shortest line to get into a bar.

Sure, the ranking easily could be blamed on rowdy student revelers or hordes of tourists. But it’s also true that in Charleston — as more than one frequenter has observed — everything seems to revolve around drinking.

This is a place where people took umbrage a few years back when a tourist was arrested for drinking a beer outside a restaurant, a city where in some restaurants the bar is the biggest thing in the room, a port city where taverns and brothels were among the earliest buildings.

“I have visiting friends who tell me Charleston will find any excuse for a cocktail,” said Chandler Thomas, who lives downtown and is no stranger to the party scene. “People who don’t live in Charleston don’t realize how much the people who do live here go out.”

They’re not alone. The 13 driving under the influence arrests made on on New Year’s Eve in Charleston and surrounding communities paled next to the public intoxication interventions. Charleston police have put a focus on alcohol violations and — Charleston being Charleston — people have complained. Chief Greg Mullen’s reasoning is simple.

“Limiting victimization is our goal,” he said. “A lot of the things we encounter on a daily basis are either driven by or caused by the use of alcohol to an extreme.” And that includes serious crimes such as domestic violence or rape.

On the peninsula, “we certainly have a challenge because we have so many bars and so many people in such a confined space,” Mullen said.

The ranking doesn’t surprise Suzanne Thomas, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs. But it’s a little deceiving, she said. All the high-ranked cities likely have a high percentage of younger population, she said. Younger people drink more. The MUSC addiction treatment clinic currently is full — a regular post-holidays occurrence — and there are generally more people here seeking treatment than can be admitted. But that’s true across the country.

“There is a huge problem with alcohol dependence,” she said.

Like it or not, though, for a lot of people Charleston is a party waiting to happen.

“I can definitely see why we’d have that high a ranking,” Chandler Thomas said. “It’s such a small town, and there’s a lot going on.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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