How much is your health worth to you? What would your life be like if you had some extra dollars to spend on healthy activities with family and friends? How much are you throwing away because of your alcohol use?
Do you even know?
It’s just one drink. It only costs $5. They’re having a sale on your favorite liquor! Even if you shop the sales, you might be surprised how much excessive alcohol use actually costs.
Not only that, but the cost of alcohol use goes far beyond what people spend on drinks. There is also medical care and other costs associated with alcohol’s impact on the body. The negative effects on health have been well-documented, but the effect on the wallet has not been calculated or studied closely — until now.
Let’s take a look at this new study that comes out of Finland in which “Researchers put a price on alcohol use.”
The Effects of Alcohol Abuse
The negative effects of alcohol abuse are well known. Heavy drinkers are at a higher risk of liver disease, certain types of cancer, and it can present significant problems for babies whose mothers drink while they are in the womb.
Beyond this, alcohol use is involved in about a third of fatal car accidents and along with other accidents and injuries, alcohol use is the third-highest cause of preventable death in the US. Unfortunately, it also plays a role in exacerbating violence, particularly in the home. Men with alcohol problems are 6 times more likely to abuse their partners.
All of these factors and more have been well-documented. The main objective of the Finnish researchers was to see what the cost is to care for a person with alcohol use disorder and the other health defects they may be suffering because of their alcohol use.
Factors Affecting the Cost
Understanding that the cost of care for alcohol abuse doesn’t exist in a vacuum, the researchers looked at causal relationships among 16 different risk factors and how they affected the cost.
These factors include:
- Marital status
- Municipality (if they lived in a province capital or not)
- Employment status
- Income support
- Illicit drug use
- Drunk driving
- Criminal record
- Number of psychiatric diagnoses
- Number of somatic diagnoses
- Status in 2012 (drinking or not)
An important part of the analysis included looking at what happens to the cost of care when the patient goes into remission, i.e. stops drinking.
The Study Group
To perform the study, the researchers looked at the records of 363 people who had been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in 2011 and 2012. They examined data spanning 5 years to get a more accurate picture of how the cost of care changed over time.
The Intriguing Findings
This is the first time a study of this nature has been done. Additionally, it is very hard to control for all factors affecting a subject of this magnitude. Thus, the results can’t be taken as hard fact, but the findings do create an interesting picture that can help people better understand the economic impact of alcoholism.
The factors that most affected the increase in the cost of care are as follows:
- Multiple chronic conditions
- Income support
- Living in a region capital
- Being over 55 years old
Multiple chronic conditions easily created the biggest increase in the cost of care. On average, the cost was a stunning 26,000 Euros or roughly $30,000 American dollars more to care for a patient with other diagnoses.
On the flip side, abstinence from alcohol was the most noteworthy factor that accounted for significantly bringing the price down. This finding indicates that entering a rehabilitation program, despite its cost of care, may actually be cheaper in the long run than if the individual were to continue drinking.
Based on these findings, on a social level, the researchers recommended making it easier for patients to access rehabilitation treatment and care for their non-alcohol-related chronic conditions. Even if society has to foot the bill, it will end up being less expensive when they don’t have to continue caring for a patient with alcohol use disorder.
The Economic Burden of Excessive Drinking
This study was mostly looking at the total cost of caring for a person with alcohol use disorder. Not all of these costs would fall directly on the patient’s shoulders. This can make them feel a little more distant and lower the motivation to avoid these costs in the first place.
However, it’s important to note that the cost of care isn’t the only thing that is expensive about alcohol use disorder. There are various factors that send the cost of excessive drinking through the roof.
The overall cost of excessive drinking in the US was $249 billion in 2010, up from $223.5 billion in 2006. This includes costs due to binge drinking, underage drinking, and drinking while pregnant. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this number is still on the rise.
The government shouldered about $100.7 billion of these costs. If the remainder of the costs are divided equally among all adults 21 years of age and older in the US, it comes out to about $750 per person. Obviously, some people pay $0 of this and others pay a far higher amount.
Where do you think you fall on the scale?
Let’s look at a few factors to see how much excessive drinking can cost on an individual level.
The Cost of Alcohol Itself
No matter how you look at it, alcohol is expensive. The price of alcohol can vary widely depending on the city or bar you’re drinking in. Whether you always go out or stay in for drinking also makes a difference, but let’s pick a conservative number.
Say your average drink costs $10. Let’s get out the calculator and see what that adds up to over the course of a year. If a person enjoys just 3 drinks a day, 5 days out of the week, they will spend $150 a week on those drinks. Times that by 52 and that person spends a whopping $7,800 a year on drinking! There’s a lot you could do with that extra money in your pocket.
And that’s just for the drinks. We’re not even looking at tips, the price of taxis when you can’t drive, and other costs associated with going out and drinking so often.
Yes, we hear you protesting in the back over there. Yes, that’s a lot of money, you say, but I only go out to drink on the weekends so I don’t spend that much.
Okay, valid, how much might you be spending then?
It probably safe to say that if you go out only on the weekends, you probably enjoy more than 3 drinks, so let’s bump it up to 4. At $10 a drink, that equals $80 a week. Heavy drinkers don’t often take the whole week off, they also enjoy a few glasses of wine or nice cold beers during the week.
The average bottle of wine costs about $15.00. By having a couple of glasses of wine with dinner each night, let’s say you drink about 2 bottles a week. Add it all up and it comes out to $5,720 a year.
Remember, we’re being conservative here. It’s likely that heavy drinkers spend far more per year on alcohol than what we have demonstrated here.
Alcohol-related injuries and trips to the ER are dramatically on the rise and have been for quite some time. In just 8 years between 2006 and 2014, the number of ER visits went up by almost 50% according to this study. In Canada, between 2003 and 2016 the number of ER visits for 25-29-year-olds because of alcohol shot up an astonishing 175%!
The average ER visit cost $1,389 in 2017. This represented a 176% increase from just 10 years before. Keep in mind this is just the entrance cost to get into the ER. Drugs, IV treatments, blood tests, and other needed care is tacked on later to the total bill.
What does this mean for you? A fun night on the town that should’ve cost less than a hundred dollars can easily turn into a couple of thousand or more if you end up in the ER.
Absenteeism from Work
Employee absenteeism costs businesses $225.8 billion per year in lost productivity. This works out to $1,685 per employee. However, there are plenty of employees out there who cost their employers far less. If you fall into the expensive category, guess who will be first on the chopping block when it’s time to trim the fat.
Individuals who frequently miss work should consider how much their absenteeism is costing them. Once they run out of paid time off or sick days, they won’t get paid for the days they don’t show up. Someone who makes $25 an hour will lose out on $200 (minus taxes etc.) for every day they don’t come to work.
How an Inpatient Alcohol Program Reduces the Economic Burden
How do we reduce this economic burden? According to the Finnish researchers, the single factor that most lowered the economic cost of alcoholism was alcohol abstinence. Their recommendation? Get folks into treatment for alcohol addiction as soon as possible.
Early intervention is the most cost-effective approach. If a heavy drinker can be helped before they spiral into full-on alcohol addiction, not only will they be easier to treat, but also it will cost less. They will generally require less help to maintain sobriety than someone who has been in the clutches of alcoholism for several years.
Regardless, it is never too late. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, now is the time to seek help and it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at.
The Cost of Rehab
Unfortunately, the cost of rehabilitation from alcoholism isn’t cheap. Patients need a lot of care and attention and this costs money. For example, a high-quality 30-day rehab program can cost around $30,000!
However, we’ve already seen the devastating economic cost of alcohol addiction. For both individuals and the government, conscientious participation in an alcohol rehab program will save a significant amount of money.
Car accidents, ER visits, alcohol-related injuries, the cost of alcohol itself — it all adds up. Many people pay the ultimate price by losing their life or watching their health quickly deteriorate because of their addiction. The monetary cost of rehab doesn’t seem quite so high when you look at it in this context.
Avoiding all this carnage is beneficial to society as well as the government shoulders a heavy portion of the economic burden. Thus, subsidizing rehab to make it more accessible and more affordable could actually lower the government’s costs.
Regardless, on an individual level, there is nothing more important than getting the help you need. The earlier you do, the better chance you have of success and maintaining sobriety. Maybe you can pay for it later will all the money you save by not drinking away your Friday nights anymore.
Looking for Top-Notch Alcohol Rehab in Texas?
It’s just one drink. It’s only $5. You don’t spend very much money on alcohol.
Really? What does your credit card say?
As we’ve seen, the cost of excessive alcohol use goes far beyond how much you spend on alcohol.
Ready to become one of the ones who lower costs with sustained abstinence? Contact us today to learn more about your options for inpatient alcohol rehab in Texas. We offer a variety of services with one singular goal, to help our patients enjoy life to the fullest once more. A freer future, with extra money to do the things you love, is waiting for you.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.