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Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. Billions, CDC Reports

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- The public health price tag on excessive drinking in the United States comes to almost $2 a drink, a new government report shows.

"Excess alcohol consumption is a serious public health problem in this country," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a noon press conference Monday. "It's also very costly."

The economic toll of problem drinking affects everybody through lost productivity, increased health care costs and the costs of alcohol-related crime, Frieden said. In 2006, those costs totaled $223.5 billion or about $1.90 a drink, the report found.

"Fully two-thirds of these costs were related to binge drinking," Frieden said. "Binge drinking is reported by about one out of seven adults in the U.S. and is by far the most common form of alcohol consumption by underage youth. Binge drinking results in binge spending, not only by the person who drinks but by the families, communities and society."

According to the CDC report, each year excessive use of alcohol results in an average of 79,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of potential life lost.

The report was published in the Oct. 17 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking (four or more drinks at a time for women, five or more for men) and heavy drinking (more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men). In addition, any drinking by pregnant women or those underage is considered excessive drinking, according to the CDC.

The largest cost from excessive drinking (72 percent) was in lost productivity. Health care costs accounted for 11 percent of the total, and 9 percent of the cost was for law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses. Drunk driving accidents contributed 6 percent of the total cost.

Of the total costs, over $94 billion were incurred by federal, state and local governments and almost $93 billion were borne by the drinkers and their families. Governments paid 61 percent of the health care costs. Drinkers and their families bore 55 percent of the cost of lost productivity, mostly from lower household income, according to the report.

The study did not look at other costs such as pain and suffering by the drinker or others affected by the drinking, so the total costs may well be higher, the agency says. Excessive drinking cost $746 per person in 2006, the researchers estimated.

There are many harms associated with excess drinking, Frieden said. "Chronic health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, inflammations of the pancreas, cancers including, liver, mouth, throat and esophageal cancer, high blood pressure, mental health problems and injuries, violence including homicide, suicide and domestic violence -- all are substantially contributed to by unhealthy patterns of alcohol intake," he said.

In addition, alcohol can harm a fetus if a mother drinks while pregnant, Frieden noted.

To come up with their conclusions, the researchers looked at data from the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Application, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol-Related Conditions and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The most current data was from 2006, they noted.

A 1998 study by The Lewin Group, a private health care consulting firm in Falls Church, Va., estimated the cost of excessive drinking at about $185 billion, the researchers said.

More information

For more on alcohol and health, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Oct. 17, 2011, teleconference with: Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Diseaase Control and Prevention; Oct. 17, 2011, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online

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