A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control about the widespread damage done by binge drinking posted some whopping costs for both the consumers themselves and society in general. The total price tag of $224 Billion a year included societal costs from binge and heavy drinking beyond what consumers pay at the bar or liquor store, including lost work productivity, property damage from car crashes, health care costs for liver cirrhosis and other alcohol-associated medical problems, and money spent on keeping drunk drivers and alcohol-using criminals behind bars. Overall the price works out to about $1.90 per drink, 80 cents of which is covered by federal, state or local governments, the researchers said. Who foots the rest of the tab? Drinkers, their families, private health insurers, employers, and crime victims. Much of this information comes directly from the study itself, as published in the October 17th, 2011 American Journal of Preventative Medicine. A recent CBS news article quoted above provides even more interesting stats and conclusions.
I find the venue for the article and the government body that undertook the study to be telling. That the Center for Disease Controls chose to address the study means that it’s not only a health issue for individuals but almost a social epidemic, with the majority of the suffering being undergone by those doing the binge drinking. These individuals lose an inordinate amount of work and suffer greatly from cirrhosis and other liver diseases, as well as from generally poor immune system responses to other illness. Another link at the CDC site provides for some of the solutions and a more focused look at the population most afflicted by binge-drinking. In contrast to the general notion of the hard-partying college student, the CDC states that 18 to 34 year old males and household incomes of over $75,000 a year constitute the bulk of binge drinkers.
The effects of such alcohol abuse are wide ranging and defy the notion that the drinker themselves is the one being damages (as the staggering $224 Billion dollar price tag affirms). Some of the other problems encountered include:
- Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
- Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
- Alcohol poisoning
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintended pregnancy
- Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Poor control of diabetes
The staggering costs are cited throughout all the articles, but I only found reference to the possible solutions on the CDC site, and found them to be pointed if not entirely effective. Some of these are listed below:
- Increasing alcoholic beverage costs and excise taxes.
- Limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets that sell alcoholic beverages in a given area.
- Consistent enforcement of laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.
- Screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.
Many of these will reduce the amount of drivers on the road after drinking, but I think the determined binge – drinker will find ways to abuse alcohol and continuing doing damage to themselves and society in general. Offering subsidized treatment at qualified inpatient facilities would seem expensive, but as the statistics and sums shown above show, may prove cheaper in the long run for both individuals and the American government in general.