News / Health

Excessive Alcohol Drinking Has $223B Price Tag

A cashier at Holiday Market, in Royal Oak, Michigan, rings up alcohol purchases, May 3, 2005.
A cashier at Holiday Market, in Royal Oak, Michigan, rings up alcohol purchases, May 3, 2005.
Art Chimes
Excessive alcohol drinking costs Americans more than $220 billion a year, or almost $2 a drink. And the biggest costs come from a loss of worker productivity.
A new study used data from 2006 in a complicated analysis of different costs associated with excessive drinking. The researchers looked at results from around the United States and found a lot of variation in different parts of the country, but the numbers add up to a very expensive habit.
“The economic cost of excessive drinking was about $223.5 billion in 2006, which works out to be about $1.90 per drink, and over $700 per person,” says Robert Brewer, MD, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a government public health agency.

Those alcohol-related costs include health care, the expense of prosecuting drinking-related crimes, and property damage from road accidents, for example. But Brewer says the biggest expense by far relates to lost productivity. People with a drinking problem tend to have lower-paying jobs, they may be absent more frequently and be less productive when they are at work.

“In addition to that, a number of people die of alcohol-attributable conditions,” Brewer explained in a telephone interview. “And many of those folks die in the prime of their life. So there’s the personal tragedy there. But there’s also a huge economic cost to somebody dying, for example, in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash at age 35 which eliminates several decades of the victim’s working life."
It should be emphasized that this is a study of the costs of excessive alcohol use, not the occasional beer or a glass of wine with dinner. Most of the costs, Brewer says, stem from binge drinking.
Although this was a study of the economic impact of heavy drinking in the United States, Brewer says many other countries have problems with what the World Health Organization calls “harmful use of alcohol.” The exact dollar impact may be different.
“But I think that it is very reasonable to assume that harmful alcohol use is going to result in some of the same consequences in other countries, even if the costs associated with those consequences are different,” said Robert Brewer.

Brewer's research on the economic costs of excessive alcohol use is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

If alcohol isn’t your cup of tea, what about coffee?
There’s another study just out that finds drinking more than 28 cups of coffee a week may be bad for you, at least if you are under age 55.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina and elsewhere charted an increased risk of death from all causes in those younger coffee drinkers. But they found no increased risk of death in older heavy coffee drinkers.

The study of more than 43,000 coffee-drinkers and non-drinkers is published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.  

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