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Economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States

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The impact to human life of alcohol consumption is well documented — in the United States an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to excessive drinking. As terrible as the loss of life is, the full price that society pays is even greater — health care costs rise, property is damaged, productivity is lost, and more.

A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Economic Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S., 2006,” utilized information from 2006 national databases to estimate the true economic costs for that year. Participating researchers were from institutions such as Mathematica Policy Research, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Findings of the study include:

  • The estimated overall economic cost of excessive drinking was $223.5 billion in 2006; in real terms this figure equates to a costs-to-society figure of approximately $1.90 per alcoholic drink consumed.
  • Of this $223 billion, 72.2% (or $161 billion) was in the form of lost productivity, 11.0% ($24 billion) from attributed health care costs, and 9.4% ($21 billion) from costs associated with criminal justice costs.
  • Binge drinking (for a woman consuming at least four drinks or a man consuming at least five drinks in two hours) resulted in total costs of $170.7 billion (76.4% of the total). Underage drinking cost $27 billion, and drinking during pregnancy $5.2 billion.
  • The cost of alcohol-attributable crime was $73.3 billion, including crash-related costs from driving under the influence (43.8%) and corrections expenditures (17.2%.)
  • The cost of excessive drinking to the U.S. government was $94.2 billion (42.1% of the total economic cost). This equates to roughly $0.80 per alcoholic drink consumed by Americans in 2006.
  • Federal, state and local revenues from excise taxes on alcohol, which totaled $14.6 billion in 2006, only covered approximately 15% of the economic costs to the government of excess drinking that year.

The researchers believe that the overall estimate is conservative, as the study does not attempt to take into consideration intangible costs such as pain, suffering, and bereavement. “The economic impact of excessive alcohol consumption is quite comparable to the economic impact of other leading health-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity,” the researchers state.

Tags: crime, economy, youth

    Writer: | Last updated: October 25, 2011

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Heavy Drinking Costs the U.S. $223.5 Billion Annually."

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?

    Read the full study titled "Economic Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S., 2006."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.