If today is Monday, you can rest assured that some people are paying a heavy price for a weekend of drinking. Hangovers are just one of the heavy costs of alcoholism. One of the heaviest costs of drinking is, well, the cost of drinking. How much does alcohol consumption cost? Not that long ago, a study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who shared a pile of sobering stats that might help put things in perspective.
The costs of alcoholism go far beyond the cost of a cocktail. Nationally, our fascination with alcohol consumption costs society $249 billion per year. Much of that cost stems from the excessive drinking that many people engage in. Excessive drinkers might binge on on four or more drinks in one sitting, or they might be downing booze heavily all week long. What’s shocking (and scary) is how these costs breakdown.
These are the costs of alcoholism:
Early mortality due to alcohol accounts for $75 billion of the $249 billion. Lost productivity (being absent from work) rings the register to the tune of $82 billion. Health-care costs for treating alcohol related injuries or conditions racks up another $28 billion. Crime related to alcohol consumption adds another $25 billion to the total and vehicle accidents costs us in the neighborhood of $13 billion bucks per year.
Who’s paying the tab? The Federal government picks up roughly $100 billion of it, largely through Medicare and Medicaid payments. The Federal criminal justice system also absorbs a chunk of the costs. The rest of it is paid by taxpayers and employers.
The data comes from several previously-released studies which looked into the costs of alcoholism by examining a variety of various health and societal outcomes.
As noted, state and federal agencies are blowing through roughly $100 billion a year. This amount goes far beyond the revenue brought in by taxes on alcohol, which only brings in around $16 billion a year. $6 billion of that comes from state and local taxes, and another $10 billion comes from federal excise taxes.
While some of this isn’t an exact science (given the ways some agencies gather statistics), these are still the best-possible stats available to help us understand the true costs of alcoholism.
It gets better: the CDC went a bit further, looking at an individual’s costs of alcoholism, but none in the way you might have thought they would.
Instead, they developed this handy guide to find out what the cost to society is for each drink you consume. Remember that $15 Moscow Mule you chugged last night? In addition to the $15 it cost you, it cost society $2.05.
Costs-per-drink varies by state, too, because of the varying economic conditions in across the country. An hour of lost work productivity costs a different amount depending on whether it happens in California or Kansas, for example. The state-level per-drink cost of heavy drinking ranges from $0.92 (New Hampshire) to $2.77 (New Mexico).
This is why there’s a movement to raise state and federal alcohol taxes. Obviously, this is a dual benefit option, making heavy drinkers drink less while helping to pay for the costs of their own drinking. Federal alcohol taxes are currently sitting at or very near to historic lows. But lawmakers, with the support of the spirits industry, want to make them even lower.
On the other hand, the alcoholic beverage industry says that it contributes $400 billion in economic activity to the U.S. economy each year. So even with a $249 billion annual cost, the overall economic impact of our drinking habit would be a net positive.
Regardless, the CDC’s new numbers serve as a reminder that every time you down a cocktail, State and Federal Governments as well as employers and taxpayers are picking up part of the tab.
Of course, the costs to an individual can be quite high – well beyond your nightly bar tab.
Insurance cost. With even one DUI, you can expect to be paying close around 300% more for car insurance. That amounts to, on average, $2,000 more a year, depending on where you live. Expect a large bump in your Health and Life insurance costs, assuming that an insurance company even qualifies you for an insurance policy. See more DUI stats
Legal bills. Expect big, fat legal bills, too. Your legal bills might stem from the DUI charge, fixing arrest warrants, attorney’s fees, fines, and driver training, and maybe even a divorce. These are all very common consequences for someone who struggles with addiction to substances.
Loss of income. If you’re struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, it’s going to be hard to finish college or attend a trade school. You can bet that you’ll be earning a low wage for a very long time, at least until you get your act together and learn a skill. Another nasty surprise awaits you when you retire: Keep in your social security/retirement benefits are based on income you earned over your lifetime. If you spend years consumed by addiction and weren’t earning a good wage, you’ll likely retire with insufficient funds to provide security.
Bad credit. Your legal complications are likely to impact your available funds. What’s next is a pile of past due bills and a bad credit score. This means higher interest rates on credit cards. You might still be able to buy a car, if you’re ok with 29% interest rates. Continued late payments will only push your credit score lower. Bad credit not only makes it difficult/impossible to buy a home but can also hinder the ability to get a good job.
As you can see, the costs of alcoholism go well beyond the cost of the cocktail. I imagine that at some point, every recovering alcoholic sitting in an outpatient program at least thinks about calculating how much they’ve spend on booze over the years. It might be an interesting exercise, but we’re betting that anyone who looks at the total costs will find it sobering.