Heavy drinkers cost the U.S. economy about $746 per person for a total of $223.5 billion in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That cost includes healthcare bills, loss of productivity at work, property damage and court fees. The CDC study calls alcohol’s economic toll “substantial” and “striking,” but also “largely unrecognized.” The CDC report breaks down the cost all the way to the drink, saying that the median cost per state for each alcoholic drink consumed was about $1.91. Find out how much heavy drinking costs where you live. For this study, researchers analyzed costs across 26 categories. They also used data acquired from several outside sources, such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Application. The data acquired by researchers allowed them to publish economic cost estimates across not only the nation, but also state by state. Researchers found that the District of Columbia had the highest economic cost per person at $1,662, and that Utah had the lowest cost per person. Utah, the study notes, also has the highest cost per drink at $2.74.
• California racks up the highest tab for alcohol use at about $32 billion per year. • Excessive alcohol use costs each state about $2.9 billion on average per year. • While binge, underage and excessive drinkers and their families paid less than half of the economic cost (about 41.5 percent), the government at the local, state and federal level paid about 42 percent of the cost. • Excessive drinking costs the government about $94 billion per year. • Excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 2.3 million years of potential life lost in the U.S. every year.
Binge drinking is the largest contributor to the high cost of alcohol use, according to the CDC. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as consuming enough alcohol in the span of two hours that blood alcohol concentration levels reach about 0.08g/dL. This comes out to about four drinks in two hours for women, and about five drinks in two hours for men, although this can vary depending on several factors, including body weight, type of drink consumed and whether food and water are also consumed. Binge drinking is responsible for nearly two-thirds of all alcohol-related fatalities (killing 80,000 people per year), and accounts for about $171 billion, or about 70 percent, of alcohol’s total cost to the U.S. economy. The high cost of binge drinking really isn’t such a surprise. Nearly 38 million Americans, including many college students and underage users, participate in binge drinking, with most reporting a binge drinking session at least four times per month. This comes out to about one in six American adults binge drinking on a regular basis. It is very popular at bars and parties, and is perpetuated by drinking games. Unfortunately, it is a risky activity that can quickly develop into both short and long term problems for the user. During a binge drinking session, a user is at greater risk of alcohol poisoning, injuries from falling, auto accidents and risky sexual encounters. Over time, consistent binge drinking can lead to brain and liver damage as well as the development of addiction known as alcoholism—a dangerous mental condition that will last a lifetime.
Underage drinking, the act of consuming alcohol by anyone under the age of 21, is also responsible for a significant portion of alcohol’s high economic cost. According to the CDC, underage drinking accounts for 11 percent, or about $24.6 billion, of the total cost of excessive alcohol use. Risks associated with underage drinking include drunk driving, alcohol poisoning and risky sexual behavior. In addition, the brain does not finish maturing until one reaches their early to mid-20s, putting underage drinkers at higher risk for developing brain damage, dependence and mental health issues. Underage drinking accounts for about 5,000 deaths every year, many of which are due to automobile accidents.
The CDC’s Recommendations
To reduce alcohol’s impact on the economy, the CDC recommends that states view their Community Guide, which lists several tactics to lower alcohol’s negative impact on communities. The CDC’s recommendations include raising taxes on alcohol sales, increased liability for bartenders and liquor stores, and limiting the number of stores selling liquor in a given area.
The Industry’s Response
While the alcohol industry acknowledges the CDC’s report, industry officials remain resistant to many of the CDC’s recommended restrictions. The alcohol industry is huge, earning the government about $6 billion per year in taxes. In a statement released by Lisa Hawkins, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, the concern over binge drinking is valid, but the CDC’s recommendations to bring alcohol abuse rates down are both “outdated and inaccurate.” The study, “State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption, 2006,” will be available in the October 2013 digital issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. For more information about the prevention of excessive alcohol use, visit //www.cdc.gov/alcohol/.