People who drink too much cost the U.S. economy $223.5 billion a year, and governments pay more than 60 percent of their health care costs, federal health experts reported on Monday.
Alcohol abuse kills 79,000 people a year, the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Most of the costs came from binge drinking, which the CDC defines as four or more drinks per occasion for a woman, and five or more drinks per occasion for a man.
“It is striking that over three-quarters of the cost of excessive alcohol consumption is due to binge drinking, which is reported by about 15 percent of U.S. adults,” the CDC’s Dr. Robert Brewer said in a statement. “Fortunately, there are a number of effective public health strategies that communities can use to reduce binge drinking and related harms, such as increasing the price of alcohol and reducing alcohol outlet density.”
Writing in the November 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the CDC team, working with the consultant firm The Lewin Group, said they analyzed national data from several national studies to report on the costs of alcohol overuse in 2006, the latest year for which complete data was available.
They found most of the costs—72 percent—came from lost workplace productivity. Another 11 percent came from direct health costs, 9 percent could be attributed to law enforcement expenses, and 6 percent to costs from motor vehicle accidents.
Federal, state, and local governments paid for $94 billion, or 42 percent of the total economic costs; drinkers and their families paid just about the same amount. Government agencies paid 61 percent of the direct health care expenses.
“This research captures the reality that binge drinking means binge spending, not just for the person who drinks but for families, communities, and society,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement.
“Responsible individual behavior combined with the effective policies can decrease unhealthy drinking, reduce health care and other costs, and increase productivity.”