Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior
Between 1998 and 2008, nine young men drowned in the nearby Mississippi River as a result of alcohol overuse with BACs as high as 0.41 (5 times the legal limit). The Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Community Coalition is a community-academic partnership between the Injury Research Center (IRC) and the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium (LMHSC). LMHSC is a partnership of two medical systems and three schools of higher education formed in response to those drowning deaths.
In 2007, the LMHSC-IRC community-academic partnership received a planning grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP) to assess the community's culture and develop a strategic plan for addressing alcohol-related injury and death among 12-24 year-olds. This grant led to the Coalition’s initial formation. The planning grant resulted in a report on the burden of alcohol-related injury in La Crosse County, a compilation of community assets for alcohol-related injury prevention, and a Strategic Plan that identified underage access and binge drinking as the major issues leading to the prevalence of injury in the community.
In 2009, the same year that La Crosse County ranked 4th worst in the state for binge drinking among 18-25 year olds, the community-academic partnership received 3 years of funding from the HWPP to focus on reducing underage access to alcohol. Activities led to changes in alcohol-related practices in La Crosse County such as best practices being adopted by community festivals, more alcohol servers seeking and receiving training in Responsible Beverage Service, additional alcohol compliance checks by law enforcement, parents of at-risk youth attending Strengthening Families sessions with their children and learning about safer practices related to alcohol in the home, and youth getting involved in alcohol awareness in their schools and communities.
In 2012, the community-academic partnership will continue its work with an additional 5 years of funding from the HWPP to create a sustainably safe environment for alcohol consumption. This will be accomplished through improvements in the delivery of evidence-based practices such as Responsible Beverage Service training and the Parents Who Host Lose the Most campaign; changes in local alcohol licensing policies; practices on college campuses, in taverns, and at festivals; and education for current and future leaders in community collaboration. The IRC’s assistance and experience with alcohol policy change, evaluation, and dissemination, will help lay the groundwork for permanent changes in the culture of risky drinking behavior of La Crosse County. The IRC is also helping to develop models of success that can be replicated in communities across the state and nation.