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Study Calculates High Cost of Heavy Drinking

Excessive alcohol consumption costs Americans $224 billion a year, according to a new study.
Excessive alcohol consumption costs Americans $224 billion a year, according to a new study.

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Art Chimes

Excessive alcohol consumption in the United States costs Americans more than $200 billion a year, according to a new study.

That hefty bill includes the medical costs related to heavy drinking, plus the impact of alcohol abuse on law enforcement agencies and employers.

The researchers found the biggest contributor to the total costs of excessive alcohol use was a drop in workplace productivity, but the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  Thomas R. Frieden, MD, told reporters that heavy drinking also contributes to a wide range of chronic health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver, "cancers, including liver, mouth, throat; high blood pressure; mental health problems; injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, burns, and firearm injuries; violence, including child maltreatment, homicide, suicide, and domestic violence. All are substantially contributed to by unhealthy patterns of alcohol intake."

This study is limited to excessive drinking, which is defined in the CDC study as more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, more than two per day for men, and any drinking at all by pregnant women and underage youth. Other research has found light-to-moderate drinking can often have benefits.

CDC director Frieden says the price of heavy alcohol use averages out to just under $2 a drink.

The estimated costs for 2006, the most recent year available, climbed $40 billion over the costs found in a similar 1998 study. And CDC Alcohol Program official Robert Brewer, MD, suggests that the findings may understate the problem.

"Now, I should tell you that our estimates here are very conservative, yet the number that we are reporting here - $223.5 billion - is huge," Brewer said.

The study on the costs of excessive drinking in the United States is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

In separate research on the health effects of alcohol, heavy drinkers were found to be at higher risk of lung cancer.

The study, by researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California, used data from a group of more than 125,000 people, who were followed for as long as 30 years to assess various lung cancer risk factors. Those who had more than three alcoholic drinks a day were more likely to get lung cancer, but the increased risk did not apply to more moderate drinkers.

The researchers, led by Stanton T. Siu, MD, presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Hawaii.

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