10 Best Sober Cities to Live In

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Every few years the Centers for Disease Control conducts a survey on health trends nationwide. Through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), they gather data on diabetes, obesity, alcohol use and other risks associated with health outcomes. The data accumulated for 2010 was used in this article to rank the most “sober” metropolitan areas. The survey includes more than 190 cities with populations greater than 10,000.

Top Ten Sober Cities

The BRFSS uses what are called “Metropolitan Statistical Areas,” which are not delineated strictly by city boundaries. For this reason, most of these are regional, rather than single cities alone. They also aren't asking specifically about alcoholism, but about how many drinks someone has consumed in the previous month.

This list is ranked by the percentage of respondents who said they hadn’t had any alcoholic beverages in the last 30 days (the national average is 47.3%):

  1. 90.5% Provo-Orem, UT
  2. 80.5% Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA
  3. 74.4% Ogden-Clearfield, UT
  4. 74.3% Charleston, WV
  5. 73.2% Knoxville, TN
  6. 71.5% Idaho Falls, ID
  7. 71.1% Chattanooga, TN-GA
  8. 69.4% Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
  9. 66.7% Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir, NC

Why it matters

Alcohol use is at least partly determined by cultural norms. While we generally think of entire countries as either pro- or anti-alcohol use, the truth is that most of us don’t travel far from our own city or town. How likely it is that we will either take up drinking as a normal behavior or reject it can come down to local influences.

For example, in Las Vegas, Nevada, almost anywhere you go in town has booze not only available but often free (in casinos). One would be hard pressed to avoid exposure to the almost constant exposure, and this is tantamount to approval of alcoholic drinks as part of the micro-culture of Vegas. It works the other way around as well. In Provo, Utah, with slightly more than 90% of those surveyed reporting no alcohol use in the last 30 days, drinking is the exception.

This plays out in a real way when alcohol sellers are confronted with a market where their products are not in high demand. In Las Vegas, a license to sell alcohol might be an essential part of opening a restaurant or hotel. Not so in Provo – the demand just isn’t there.

Will a sober city keep me sober?

It may be easier to remain abstinent in a city where drinking is the exception, but there are very few places in the United States where someone couldn’t find alcohol if they craved it enough. Even in “dry” towns (such as some in Alaska, where alcohol possession is illegal) smuggling from other cities brings it in. But even if the restrictions were enforced 100%, there is nothing stopping a resident from traveling to another area where booze is legal.

What may help with sobriety isn’t the availability of alcohol on its own, but the way alcohol is viewed in the area. Peer pressure can make a difference. Attending a social function where there is no alcohol present is certainly better for an alcoholic than when there’s an open bar.

Still, alcohol addiction is powerful and we won’t stay sober just because booze is hard to come by. The largest impact is probably among young people who are most prone to adopting the behaviors of those around them. In what is called a “virtuous cycle,” the lack of role models who drink leads to less mimicking by the young and a positive cycle which leads to fewer problem drinkers – a very good thing.

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