The Hidden Costs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Addiction

By the time a person addicted to alcohol considers seeking treatment at alcohol rehab centers, the damage this legal drug has caused in his or her own life is fairly obvious. The alcoholic may have lost a job, be in poor health, or have strained relationships with loved ones. What the addicted person and those closest to him or her might not consider is how much alcoholism costs the larger society. When comparing the cost of inpatient alcohol treatment with the many hidden costs of alcohol addiction, it is clear that the former is a cost-effective solution that benefits the greatest number of people.

 Alcoholism and Mortality

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the excessive use of alcohol kills approximately 88,000 people in the United States every year. The CDC includes the following in its definition of excessive use:

  • Any use of alcohol by people under the legal drinking age of 21. Unfortunately, the strict nationwide age limit does little to prevent younger people from obtaining and consuming alcohol. Some start drinking before they even reach their teens and have a full-blown addiction by high school. Young people with an addiction to alcohol or their parents might wish to consider an inpatient alcohol rehab program that focuses on treatment for people under age 21.
  • Any use of alcohol by pregnant women. The CDC advises pregnant women to abstain from alcohol completely as it has not identified any amount safe to consume during pregnancy. Excessive use of alcohol can cause lifelong problems for the developing baby such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Damage to the fetus can also take place before the woman even realizes that she is pregnant.
  • Binge drinking, which refers to consuming as much alcohol as possible in a short time to bring the blood alcohol level above the legal limit of .08. The CDC indicates that men can reach this level by consuming five alcoholic beverages in two hours. Women need only four drinks to reach the same level. It is not uncommon for people with true alcohol addiction to rationalize that they do not need alcohol treatment because they are not a binge drinker.
  • Heavy drinking, which the CDC identifies as consuming 15 or more alcoholic beverages every week for men or eight or more alcoholic beverages for women.

The mortality figure of 88,000 people annually does not include those who died indirectly due to the alcoholism of another person such as car accident or homicide victims. The good news in light of these staggering and tragic statistics is that many of the outcomes are preventable when the addicted person recognizes the need for help and enrolls in an alcohol abuse treatment program.

 The Economic Cost of Excess Alcohol Consumption on Society

The CDC conducted a study several years ago that indicates an annual price tag of $249 billion to deal with the consequences of drinking too much alcohol. That breaks down to approximately $2.05 for every drink that a person consumes. Binge drinking is responsible for slightly more than three-fourths of the cost of alcoholism on the collective society.

While drinkers themselves paid some of those costs, federal and state governments picked up 40 percent of it. This proves that alcoholism is a societal problem. Making affordable outpatient alcohol rehab available to more people is one effective solution in reducing the costs associated with active alcoholism for everyone.

Alcoholism Impact

 Alcoholism Has the Greatest Impact on Workplace Productivity

Drinking too often and too much certainly has an impact on a person’s career. When a drinking habit starts early in life and the addicted person goes years suffering from symptoms of alcohol abuse, he or she may never begin a career at all.

The intense cravings for alcohol can override good judgment to the point of frequently calling in sick to work, quitting multiple jobs or getting fired, or coming to work impaired and potentially causing an accident. The longer a person remains in the active phase of alcoholism without seeking inpatient alcohol treatment, the more likely it is that he or she will experience homelessness due to lack of a stable income.

According to the CDC study, lost productivity in the workplace makes up 72 percent of the $249 billion spent or lost to active alcohol addiction each year. Employers can suffer as much as the employees with a drinking problem. When an employee cannot make it to work several days in a row, it puts the employer’s production schedule behind and forces other employees to cover for the missing one. This could require the employer to pay them overtime since they need more time to complete tasks not originally assigned to them.

Accidents on the job due to alcohol impairment can also be costly to employers. A legally intoxicated employee who gets into an accident in a company vehicle is just one example. If the worker injures someone else while driving, the injured person could sue the employer for not preventing the employee from driving even if the employer had no way of knowing the worker came to work drunk or had been drinking on the job.

The addiction to alcohol can also cause the employee to get into an accident at work and need several weeks off to recover. Since workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, the employer would lose money paying partial wages until the employee returned to work.

Most employers recognize that alcoholism is a disease in need of alcohol treatment. In many cases, employers would rather see employees with an alcohol problem get the help they need through alcohol rehab centers than fire them and have to start over hiring and training someone else. This is the reason that numerous American employers choose to offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at no cost to employees so they can find the help they need to recover.

 The Impact of Alcoholism on Healthcare Costs

Healthcare expenses related to treating conditions caused by excess alcohol intake make up 11 percent of the total in the CDC study. In addition to the mortality rate of 88,000 people per year, the CDC created another statistic labeled Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL). That figure is 2.5 million years due to health problems, accidents, and violence caused by drinking. Mortality is highest in working adults between the ages of 20 and 64. The CDC indicates that 10 percent of deaths in this age range occur due to excessive use of alcohol and the lack of resources to help people quit such as inpatient alcohol rehab.

The following are several short-term and long-term consequences people may suffer due to symptoms of alcohol abuse.

  • Alcohol poisoning, a condition that occurs when the blood pressure increases rapidly because of too much alcohol in the body.
  • Anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
  • Cancer, especially of the breast, colon, esophagus, liver, mouth, or throat.
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior such as unprotected sexual intercourse or having sex with multiple partners. This increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage, or stillbirth in pregnant women who drink alcohol excessively.
  • Injuries due to burns, drownings, falls, and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Memory and comprehension problems including dementia and poor performance at work or school
  • Serious long-term health conditions such as digestive issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke.
  • Violence, including domestic abuse, homicide, suicide, and sexual assault.

When a person with alcohol addiction enters a holistic alcohol abuse treatment program, helping him or her regain health takes precedence over other treatment goals. This may or may not include going through a supervised detox process. A focus on physical and mental health is necessary because the alcoholic needs to be reasonably healthy to benefit from other aspects of the program such as group and individual counseling.

Alcoholism Affects

 How Alcoholism Affects Criminal Justice Costs

Two government agencies recently weighed in on the close association between addiction and the criminal justice system. In its report on the true cost of addiction, the CDC indicated that 10 percent of annual costs related to alcohol addiction is due to expenditures in criminal justice and law enforcement. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) expressed confidence in outpatient alcohol rehab or inpatient alcohol rehab as a solution for both the individual suffering from the symptoms of alcohol abuse and the larger society.

Instead of getting the help they need, many people with the disease of alcoholism go to jail. Both the CDC and NIH argue that alcohol treatment is the most effective way to lower crime, improve safety to society, and reduce expenses associated with arrests, court trials, and prison sentences.

While offenders must pay for damage to others through monetary fines or time in jail, these organizations argue that an assessment for alcoholism is also necessary followed by completing a program at alcohol rehab centers paid for by the state. The organizations insist that the cost of state-sponsored addiction treatment is far less than allowing alcoholics to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system for the remainder of their life. Some of the most common costs associated with alcohol and criminal justice include:

  • Police salaries, particularly when they must work overtime in areas known to have serious alcohol problems.
  • Time spent in the county jail awaiting sentencing or before posting bail.
  • A court trial and the state expenses of paying for prosecutors and expert witnesses.
  • The expenses associated with serving time in a federal prison such as meals and payment of prison employee salaries.
  • Counseling and/or reimbursement for victims of crimes committed by a person under the influence of alcohol.
  • Monitoring drunk drivers through interlock ignition requirements or the cost of monitoring for other types of offenders such as paying the salaries of probation officers.

While alcoholics often must experience negative consequences such as time in jail, checking into an inpatient alcohol treatment program can help them improve life skills and avoid committing future crimes. Everyone wins with this scenario.

 Alcohol and Motor Vehicle Crashes

Accounting for five percent of the total annual monetary losses in the CDC study crashes caused by impaired drivers can have a devastating effect both the driver and others on the road at the same time. The CDC states that 29 Americans lose their lives every day due to the consequences of impaired driving. In 2016, the last year for which the agency has published statistics, 10,497 people died in car accidents involving alcohol. That same year, police arrested one million people for impaired driving.

Regardless of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the CDC states that younger drivers face a greater risk of a serious or fatal crash than older drivers due to their inexperience. Driving with a BAC of .08, the legal limit in most states, can affect drivers in the following ways:

  • An inability to recognize dangerous situations and a heightened sense of invincibility can cause impaired drivers to take even more chances and engage in especially reckless behavior.
  • Impact on judgment, memory, reasoning, and self-control to the point of a driver acting in ways that he or she would not do when not under the influence of alcohol.
  • Muscle coordination such as balance, hearing, reaction time, speech, and vision can all become impaired.

Among the many ways it proposes to reduce drunken driving, the CDC pushes for greater access to alcohol abuse treatment, improved community prevention efforts, and health improvement programs in more organizations and schools. Whether people addicted to alcohol attend inpatient alcohol treatment or outpatient alcohol rehab does not matter as much as the fact that they locate resources that can help them as quickly as possible.


Tim Sinnott, MFT

With several advanced degrees from the University of San Francisco (Doctor of Education in Counseling and Educational Psychology and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, emphasis in Marital and Family Therapy), Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies (Certificate, Summer School of Alcohol Studies), and the University of California, Santa Cruz (Certificate in Alcohol Studies, Advanced Counselor Training Program), and a strong history of directing recovery facilities, Tim is a capable speaker and leader in addiction treatment services. Tim also has extensive marriage and family counseling knowledge and prides himself on his ability to connect with clients and professionals on an individual basis.

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