Excessive alcohol use* is not a new, inconsequential, or geographically-isolated problem. In 2010, approximately 17% of US adults reported binge drinking, 5% reported heavy drinking, 7.6% reported drinking while pregnant, and 39% of youth under the age of 21 reported drinking (Source: CDC, BRFSS). A report released in 2011 estimates the economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the US is approximately $223 billion each year.
Excessive alcohol consumption is one of Wisconsin’s biggest public health issues. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with many negative health and social consequences, which come at a great economic cost. Everyone who lives and works in Wisconsin is affected by these consequences and associated economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption, regardless of his or her personal drinking behavior.
Released in March 2013, The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin, outlines these costs. The report states that excessive alcohol use in Wisconsin led to approximately 1,529 deaths, 48,578 hospitalizations, 46,583 treatment admissions, 60,221 arrests, and 5,751 motor vehicle crashes in 2011 and estimates an annual economic cost of $6.8 billion. These costs are borne by everyone, not just the excessive drinkers, through higher insurance rates, diverted government spending to address substance abuse-related crimes and consequences, lost economic output, and higher healthcare costs. The report describes what Wisconsinites are paying for and who’s paying what and includes county-level estimates.
Economic costs are broken into three large cost categories: healthcare, lost productivity (includes premature death), and “other,” which includes costs to the criminal justice system and motor vehicle crashes. $6.8 billion breaks down into these categories as such:
- Healthcare costs: $749 million
- Lost productivity costs: $4.9 billion
- Other costs: $1.1 billion
Payers of these economic costs are also broken into three categories: government (includes local, state, and federal), excessive drinkers and their families, and “others in society,” which includes, but is not limited to, private health insurers, employers, and crime victims. These payers bear the $6.8 billion as follows:
- Government: $2.9 billion
- Excessive drinkers and their families: $2.8 billion
- Others in society: $1.1 billion
Funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program, the report represents a community-academic partnership between the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Health First Wisconsin, a health policy-focused community-based organization (www.healthfirstwi.org).
The report has garnered much media attention and advocates are hoping it will lead to policy change in the state. Specifically, Health First Wisconsin is hoping to generate support for the following policies:
- 21 is 21: This policy would enforce the minimum legal drinking age in bars and restaurants. Parents could no longer buy alcohol for their underage children.
- Increase alcohol tax: This policy would increase the excise tax on beer, wine, and spirits. The beer tax was last raised in 1969 and is second lowest in the nation.
- Sobriety checkpoints: This policy would allow local jurisdictions to implement sobriety checkpoints. Thirty-eight states allow them and research shows they can reduce alcohol-related crashes by 20%.
The full report can be accessed at https://uwphi.pophealth.wisc.edu/publications/other/burden-of-excessive-alcohol-use-in-wi.pdf.
*Excessive alcohol consumption is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as binge drinking (≥4 drinks per occasion for a woman, and ≥5 drinks per occasion for a man); heavy drinking (>1 drink per day for a woman, and >2 drinks per day on average for a man); any alcohol consumption by youth aged <21 years; and any alcohol consumption by pregnant women.