Excessive consumption of alcohol, much of it binge drinking, cost the American economy $224 billion in 2006, says a new report issued by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and to be published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (November 2011 issue). The authors wrote that the toll translates into $1.90 per drink consumed. Alcohol abuse is a growing problem in several other developed nations, including the UK.

Approximately 79,000 people die each year in the USA because of heavy drinking – a total of 2.3 million years of potential life lost, the authors wrote.

The report defines binge drinking as consuming at least five drinks in one sitting for a male and 4 drinks for a female. Heavy drinking means regularly consuming more than two drinks daily for a man and one drink for a woman. Excessive drinking, when referring to pregnant females and underage individuals includes any amount.

72% of the $224 economic toll comes from lost work due to drinking – what is commonly referred to as losses in workplace productivity, while health care expenses related to conditions caused by heavy drinking made up 11%. The extra expenses incurred by the state in police and criminal justice system resources caused by excessive alcohol consumption represent 9% of the economic burden, while the costs caused by drinking and driving represent 6%.

The researchers believe that $224 billion is a conservative estimate, because their calculations did not include other potential costs, such as the suffering and pain experienced by the excessive drinker and his/her family.

The authors say heavy drinking was estimated to have cost each American approximately $746 in 2006.

Although such a scene of binge drinking may seem amusing, its economic burden is considerable

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said:

“This research captures the reality that binge drinking means binge spending, not just for the person who drinks but for families, communities, and society. There are substantial costs to all of us in health care, the workplace, and criminal justice systems.

Responsible individual behavior combined with the effective policies can decrease unhealthy drinking, reduce health care and other costs, and increase productivity.”

The authors gathered data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Application, and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol-Related Conditions to help them calculate the economic burden from excessive drinking in 2006. The last estimate, carried out by the Lewin Group, estimated the burden in 1998 to be about $185 billion.

The federal state and local governments bore approximately 42% ($94.2 billion), and drinkers and their families bore 41.5% ($92.9 billion).

Health care expenses were paid for mostly by government agencies (61%). The excessive drinkers and their families bore 55% of the lost productivity costs, mainly in the form of less income for the household.

Co-author of the report, Robert Brewer, M.D., M.P.H., Alcohol Program Leader at CDC, said:

“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. 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”.

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Binge drinking has been shown to increase the likelihood of fights, vandalism, drunk driving, injury, trouble with the law, negative legal consequences, harm to health, and negative social and economic outcomes.

Binge drinking is also linked to neurocognitive deficits of frontal lobe processing (in the brain) and poor working memory. Experts say that binge drinking combined with the stress of going back to work on Monday morning is a contributory factor in higher deaths from heart attacks (on Mondays).

Written by Christian Nordqvist