The Economic Impact of Excessive Alcohol Use
Alcohol use disorder and binge drinking behavior has a variety of negative effects on our community’s health and wellness. But how does excessive alcohol use impact the United States and the world from an economic standpoint? To answer this question, we are sharing the information from studies conducted by several institutions. Looking at this information together is impactful. At the end of this article, we share tactics you can use to help inform your community about negative impacts of excessive alcohol use.
What is excessive alcohol use?
If a man consumes more than 14 drinks per week, and a woman consumes more than 7 drinks per week, this is considered to be excessive alcohol use. Binge drinking is defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for men or three or more alcoholic drinks per occasion for women.
Excessive alcohol use increases a person’s risk to develop alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition when a person doesn’t have the ability to stop or control alcohol consumption despite adverse consequences. Adverse consequences may be loss of a job, illness, family issues, or other undesirable consequences. (You may be more familiar with the term alcoholic; however, the term “alcoholic” carries a lot of stigma. Medical professionals have not used this term for a while now.)
How much does excessive alcohol use cost the United States?
In 2010, the CDC released a study that the cost of excessive alcohol use in the United States reached $249 billion (this would equal $340 billion in 2022). They broke down the costs as follows:
- Lost workplace productivity: 180 billion
- Health care expenses 29 billion
- Criminal justice expenses: 26 billion
- Losses from Motor Vehicle accidents. 14 billion
The researchers believe that this study underestimates the cost of excessive drinking. The report also noted that $99 billion of the $249 billion was paid by federal, state, and local governments.
How much work is missed due to excessive alcohol use?
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine wanted to determine how many days of work were missed if an individual had alcohol use disorder. When analyzing survey information from 2015 – 2019, they found that 9% of adult workers in the United States met the criteria for alcohol use disorder. This is roughly 11 million people.
You may be wondering; how does a survey diagnose alcohol use disorder? There is a series of questions — such as whether an individual tried to stop drinking but couldn’t, or if they spent a great deal of time sick from drinking that are asked in the survey. Based on the individual’s answers it is determined if they did not meet the criteria, if they mildly, moderately, or severely met the criteria of alcohol abuse disorder. Then, the surveys asked how much time they missed from work. Here are the results:
- Did not meet criteria: 13 days of work missed annually
- Mild alcohol use disorder: 18 days of work missed annually
- Moderate alcohol use disorder: 24 days of work missed annually
- Severe alcohol use disorder: 32 days of work missed annually
As you can see people with severe alcohol use disorder miss more than double the number of workdays then individuals without alcohol use disorder. The researchers estimated that 232 million workdays per year are missed due to illness, injury or simply skipping work altogether because of alcohol use disorder. Now to make this more compelling – this is taken from data between 2015-2019. It is likely that workdays lost have increased, due to alcohol sales increasing by 20% during the COVID pandemic.
How are other countries addressing excessive alcohol use?
The World Health Organization concluded that 3 million deaths occur every year worldwide due to the harmful use of alcohol. Because of this, the WHO agreed to a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. They encourage policymakers to take action on strategies that have shown to be effective and cost-effective. These include:
- regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages (in particular to younger people);
- regulating and restricting the availability of alcohol;
- enacting appropriate drink-driving policies;
- reducing demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms;
- raising awareness of the health and social problems for individuals and society at large caused by the harmful use of alcohol;
- ensuring support for effective alcohol policies;
- providing accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders; and
- implementing screening and brief intervention programs in health services for hazardous and harmful drinking.
Japan’s Health Ministry created and published an alcohol harm reduction plan mentioning the WHO initiative. This mindset shift has helped to create a space for sober positivity in Japanese youth, helping to establish the no- and low-alcohol (NoLo) market in Japan in recent years. So much so, that another part of the Japanese government is concerned that tax revenue from alcohol sales is too low. They released a contest to get ideas on how to encourage Japanese youth to increase drinking. The conundrum created is how to keep tax revenue while encouraging a healthier lifestyle.
In December of 2022, WHO/Europe launched a plan called EVID-ACTION to reduce alcohol consumption and harm. Almost 300,000 people die each year because of alcohol in the EU, and yet Europeans don’t have access to accurate information about alcohol and its impact on their health. This initiative plans to expand health literacy and public knowledge about alcohol use as well as expand screenings of the condition.
How can your community reduce alcohol use?
Here are tactics to raise awareness in your community on the negative effects of alcohol use and how to get help:
- Help people spot the signs of excessive alcohol use.
- Encourage screening by individuals and primary care physicians. The WHO created an easy to use Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). This 10 question survey makes it rather easy to identify if a person is at risk of alcohol use disorder, or if they should take measures to reduce their drinking before it becomes problematic. A score of 8 or more is considered to indicate hazardous or harmful alcohol use.
- Create and distribute materials at local fairs, markets, and other community events. There are free publications created by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) that you can download, print, and distribute. Or you can create your own.
- Get the word out on social media. You can share videos created by the NIH and other organizations on Facebook. You won’t be able to boost these posts, but you can post and share these messages. It is helpful to have a group of people in your community who are committed to posting, commenting, and sharing the information. This will help people see your content.
If you want to reach people you aren’t connected to on social media, we have had a lot of success with paid messages about anti-stigma and alcohol awareness on SnapChat. SnapChat has an ad platform that can help you reach 9 or of 10 young people. Tiktok can also help you tap into an audience who is interested in your positive messaging and has an ad platform that you can take advantage of.
- Connect people to local places to get help.
- Create a directory of public and private resources where people who are affected by alcohol use disorder can get help. (This includes family, friends and co-workers.) This directory can be printed in a pamphlet and/or put online for people to discover on the internet. Click here to view an example of a Google map created by Greener Pathways and C-GAC to help people find a variety of local resources.
- Encourage healthy choices.
- Create or make people aware of your local green spaces to get your community outside. Are their vacant lots in your community? Work with your community officials to purchase and clean up these lots and turn them into pocket parks with flowers, trees and places to sit. Do you have lots of hidden activities and trails that people don’t know about? Create a PDF pamphlet with the information, and put it online.
- Help children learn about the negative effects of alcohol before they start drinking. Create programs with school officials to make an impression early in their lives. One way to do this is to start or work with a local chapter of SADD.
- Encourage restaurants, bars and eateries to have NoLo beverage options available to their customers. Fun and festive NoLo beverages and mocktails takes away the uncomfortableness of peer pressure to join in when friends are drinking. No one needs to know!
As community leaders and influencers, lets lessen the economic impact of excessive drinking. Non-profit and government organizations can raise awareness of the health and social problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol. This should over time reduce demand (as seen in Japan). In the meantime, it is important to make it easier for people to get help for excessive alcohol use. These initiatives will help create a healthier community for all.