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OPINION: 'America's Drunkest City' title is nothing to celebrate

Posted by Alex Pearlman  January 15, 2012 06:23 PM

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boston drunkest city.jpgBy Alison Amorello

I was sitting in a Starbucks in Reading when I first heard about Boston's prestigious no. 1 position on The Daily Beast's 2011 list of America's drunkest cities. No sooner than I read the the second of many similar and unmemorable tweets on the subject, the two college students sunk into the armchairs to my right began discussing the list with a mix of pride and amusement.

'With Boston at no. 1 and Springfield at no. 2,' said one to the other, 'it feels good to be from Massachusetts! We better keep it up until next year!' (Good plan, right? Not only was I observing an admirable party animal, but she must have been a regular genius, too.)

Between the girls' audible babbles, as well as the endless commentary from the social networks in front of my eyes, I was exposed to an excess of obnoxious rejoicing over Boston's drunken reputation and came to a rather disturbing realization about Bostonians: We know how to celebrate a big New England sports win. We wear our college town reputation well. We like to unwind, pregame, and party. But we're missing the point.

Instead of recognizing our place at the top of this list as troubling or, at the very least, embarrassing, the general consensus seems to be that Boston has achieved something honorable and coveted. Substance abuse, a cause for concern to some, has been accepted by this city's residents with a mix of grace and arrogance, as if this title is our own personal Oscar. We never imagined this day would come, and we’d like to thank all of the little people, diligently binge drinking all over town, for making it possible.

While the city's youth take a sloppy bow, Ford Vox, a Boston-based brain injury physician and journalist, provides a more sobering personal reflection regarding the list in his article “Boston's Brain Drain: The Cost of Being America's Drunkest City." Vox writes that over 75 percent of the injuries he treated in 2011 were alcohol-related, many involving “high functioning” society members whose drinking would normally be considered part of the Boston norm.

Perhaps more disturbing than the incidents involving high-society Bostonians is the fate of those who suffer from addiction and cannot get the help they need due to high demand. Recalling a woman who suffered from “vicious alcoholism,” Vox explains that, after successful treatment of an alcohol-related brain injury at a rehabilitation hospital, doctors felt she needed more help than counseling -- “[b]ut all the alcohol treatment programs in the Boston area she qualified for were filled up to capacity (if [T]he Daily Beast's assessment is accurate, we know why).

“Outpatient counseling would have to suffice," he continues. "Well, it didn't. Despite the weeks of physical and cognitive therapy that got her back home, she came right back in her car a few days later. Multiple collisions followed in a single drunken spree. The last I heard, she was in prison.”

Many speculate over the cause of Boston's award-winning drinking habits, citing the high number of college students and our fanatic sports culture. Others blame the distinct restrictions on consumption, including laws prohibiting “Happy Hour” and a general strictness in policy; perhaps the taboo adds to the appeal. Regardless, based on public reaction, I feel that the cause of our city's high alcohol use is less important than the effect this statistic has on Bostonians.

We live in a city with a great deal to celebrate -- but I don’t believe this embarrassing instance is one of those things. I can take a joke or 50, but at the end of the day, I hope the city as a whole recognizes this award as a problem, not an achievement.

But then again, maybe I just need a drink.

What do you think about Boston's place at the top of The Daily Beast's list?

Photo by brosner (Flickr)

About Alison -- I am a recent Emmanuel College graduate who loves creative writing, cheeseburgers, travel, car radio sing-a-longs, and Armenian line dancing down the hallway when no one is watching. I'm not sure what I'm up to next year or next month, but I plan on having fun for the rest of my life. Twitter: @AlisonAmorello

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