Why are we more boozy?

Upper Midwesterners drink more. Could it be our northern European roots? The weather? Well, yes.

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In polls and studies tracking how much beer, wine and spirits are guzzled by region, Upper Midwest states consistently rank among the highest in drinkers per capita. The online Urban Dictionary even includes it on its (decidedly nonscientific) list of qualities characterizing the area: "Strong accents, forests, guns, heavy alcohol consumption, and liberals."

While the number of drinkers in the state actually fell from 63.3 percent of the adult population in 2008 to 59.6 percent in 2010, "Minnesota generally comes in as one of the top five states for both regular and binge drinking," said Jay Jaffee, chemical health coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Why? Blame Germany, the weather and depression-prone genes.

"Many residents in the Upper Midwest are descendants of northern Europeans, and that's an area of heavy alcohol consumption," said Peter Nathan, a professor at the University of Iowa who has been studying alcohol use patterns and effects for more than 40 years. "The long, cold winters keep people inside more than in other parts of the country, so that contributes, as well."

Another influencing factor is what Nathan calls "a dysphoria, a certain heightened level of depression that's not necessarily clinical," that tends to make people want to drink more (and when they do, they get more depressed).

Sales of spirits, wine and beer are down overall at bars and restaurants in Minnesota, but up at liquor stores, said Frank Ball, director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group representing about 3,500 bars and restaurants in the state.

"If people are consuming more, it appears they're doing it at home," he said.

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