Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Strong alcohol regulations save us money

While researchers continue to find that substance abuse prevention saves money (see yesterday's post), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study adds to what we know about the high cost of excessive alcohol consumption. 

Underage drinking is included in the definition of excessive alcohol consumption.  According to the study, 12% of the economic costs of excessive consumption were related to underage drinking.  The largest share of underage drinking costs were related to "lost productivity" due to premature death. 

Here is part of CADCA's summary of the findings:

Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 79,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of potential life lost in the United States each year, said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., in a press conference held Monday.

Researchers found the costs largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72 percent of the total cost), health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11 percent of the total cost), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption (9 percent of the total cost), and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving (6 percent of the total cost). The study did not consider a number of other costs such as those due to pain and suffering by the excessive drinker or others who were affected by the drinking, and thus may be an underestimate. Researchers estimated that excessive drinking cost $746 per person in the United States in 2006.

“This research captures the reality that binge drinking means binge spending, not just for the person who drinks but for families, communities, and society,” Dr. Frieden said. “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 of the study (published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2011) conclude by saying, ". . . this study shows that 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."  Among the policies they cite as being effective in preventing excessive consumption are increasing the price of alcohol, limiting alcohol outlet density, and keeping the legal drinking age of 21.  In other words, strong alcohol regulations can save us money.

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