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CDC Report: The Hidden Costs of Drinking Too Much

PHOTO: Would you toast if you knew that the costs associated with excessive drinking top $8 billion in Michigan in a single year  many of them borne by state government? Photo credit: Microsoft Images
PHOTO: Would you toast if you knew that the costs associated with excessive drinking top $8 billion in Michigan in a single year many of them borne by state government? Photo credit: Microsoft Images
August 15, 2013

LANSING, Mich. - Michigan is in the top ten in a category it probably wouldn't want to brag about: states with the highest per-capita costs for excessive alcohol consumption. A new report from the CDC tallies up a single year's figures by state for the health problems, lost productivity and crime-related issues associated with binge drinking. It says excessive alcohol use has put a huge and under-recognized economic burden on states.

According to the CDC's alcohol program leader, Dr. Robert Brewer, the estimated annual cost for Michigan is $8.2 billion, or $2.16 per drink consumed in the state, and 92 cents of that is paid in some form through state government.

"We're talking about costs at the state level that are of the same order of magnitude as the costs of smoking, and in many states, the same order of magnitude as the cost of Medicaid," Brewer declared. "This is a huge burden for society and, of course, for the individuals who are drinking excessively as well."

The report defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men, and for women, four or more drinks. The CDC measured more than 20 costs, including injury, illness, disease and death, reduced work productivity, criminal justice expenses and health care. Brewer said the CDC is investigating problem drinking as a public health issue.

The study did not include the cost of state agencies that regulate alcoholic beverages, nor did it put a price on the pain and suffering of grieving relatives when someone dies as a result of binge drinking. But Brewer said that happens all too often.

"We also know, sadly, that there are on the order of 80,000 deaths that are attributable to excessive alcohol use in the U.S. each year, and many of those deaths are occurring among people in the prime of their lives," he said. "So, there's a lot of productivity losses that are related to what we would call premature mortality."

The report suggests public policies to reduce problem drinking, including raising taxes on beverage alcohol and restricting the sites where it's available. These are options that, when suggested by lawmakers, typically raise a public outcry for being a throwback to Prohibition.

Link to the CDC report at ajpmonline.org.

Rob South, Public News Service - MI