Don’t go it alone

Being sober in one of the drunkest cities in the country is difficult. This local Packers fan club and community organization is connecting residents to resources.

By John McCracken

John Plageman (left) can be seen with volunteers at the Section Yellow booth during a Green Bay Packers’ gameday. Since 2019, Plageman has hosted informal, community events to bring awareness to sober living in Green Bay. Photo courtesy of John Plageman

The headlines and reports are everywhere.

Green Bay named drunkest city in the US.”

Green Bay tops as drunkest city in America.”

John Plageman is sick of these unflattering statistics.

Plageman, an Information and Assistance Specialist at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Brown County and a member of the Brown County Alcohol and Drug Coalition for Change, is in long-term recovery himself.

Plageman created Section Yellow, a sober club of Green Bay Packer fans, in 2019.

Section Yellow is a place for sober fans to have a reprieve from Lambeau’s rancorous activities and drinking. Plageman said the section is not just for those in recovery or those who don’t drink. It’s a place to learn about the sober-conscious movement.

“I don’t care if people drink,” Plageman said. “We don’t want to take away anybody’s drinking culture. We just don’t want to be the drunkest city in America.”

Wisconsin drinking by the numbers

Being one of the drunkest cities in the country comes at a cost.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use, either in the form of binge or heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of many health problems, such as liver disease and unintentional injuries.

The CDC describes binge drinking as the consumption of five or more drinks during one occasion for men or four or more drinks for women. Heavy drinking is 15 or more drinks per week for men or 8 or more for women.

A 2018 study by financial news outlet 24/7 Wall Street used CDC statistics to determine the top 20 drunkest cities in America. 10 of those cities were in Wisconsin. The study also found that 18% of adults in America drink excessively, Wisconsin adults surpassed the national average by 8%, coming in with just over 26% of adults who excessively drink. In Green Bay, 26.5% of adults drink to excess and over 50% of traffic deaths involve alcohol.

Wisconsinites stuck at home in 2020 were a force to be reckoned with for the beer industry. Personal and professional breathalyzer company BACtrack collected data on alcohol consumption during the first weeks of shelter in place orders initiated throughout the country. Wisconsin drinking jumped 114% within the first weekend after orders were put in place. Average Wisconsin blood alcohol contact increased 13% across the board during shut down orders.

2020 also showed the power of alcohol sales in Wisconsin.

Revenue from the state’s taxes on alcoholic beverages rose to roughly $74 million during the fiscal year 2021, which ends in June, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum. This was a 16.6% increase, one of the largest in the state since 1972.

A growing sober section

In 2020, much like all other events, Section Yellow did not meet at Packer games and Plageman said he was worried that going into the new season, the turnout would be low. Plageman said that thankfully Packers management didn’t forget about them and visitation to Section Yellow during the preseason and early season home games have been high.

“We average 20 to 30 sober fans coming to the table to say hi, take pictures and get a sober sticker to wear,” Plageman said.
The Sober Green Bay campaign has also gained more notoriety in recent months. Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach declared September 2021 as “Sober Green Bay Campaign Month.”

“Our goal is to help more people achieve and sustain long-term recovery,” Streckenbach said in a statement. “Preventing and overcoming mental and substance use disorders is essential to achieving a healthy lifestyle here in Brown County.”

Alongside gameday efforts, Plageman has also been working with the Brown County Public Health Department to reach businesses and community spaces to bring awareness to sobriety this year. Sober Green Bay is an outreach program that walks bartenders, business owners, wait staff, concerned loved ones and anyone interested in continuing the conversation around sobriety through a 30-minute training session about how to bring resources to people during their times of need.

Plageman said he wants those who are interested in reducing their alcohol intake, becoming fully sober or those who are interested in the movement for the sake of a loved one to know they don’t have to go it alone.

“You can go to Packer games if you want to be sober,” Plageman said, “you can go to concerts if you want to be sober, you can go up to deer hunting camp and be sober—might need a new deer hunting camp because all the other guys are drinking—but there are other alternatives.”


Drug and alcohol resources


John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at jmccracken@mmclocal.com or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.

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