New estimates say excess alcohol consumption cost the U.S. economy a quarter-trillion dollars in 2010. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has put a figure on how much it costs the American economy: $249 billion. That includes spending on health care as well as the economic toll of lost productivity, car crashes, crime, and deaths attributable to alcohol consumption.
The biggest economic burden from alcohol manifests in the workplace.
Alcohol cost $77 billion in impaired productivity at work in 2010, according to the CDC’s breakdown published in the American Journal of Preventive Health.
Adding in absenteeism and other factors, the total productivity toll from alcohol use in the United States approached $90 billion. That’s not counting losses from alcohol-related deaths. The CDC has previously estimated that one in 10 deaths of working-age Americans are caused by too much alcohol.
The total cost of alcohol to the economy is rising. The last time the CDC made a similar calculation, alcohol use was blamed for $224 billion in costs, estimated for 2006. The increase, about 2.7% annually from 2006 to 2010, outpaced inflation. Most of the costs are attributable to binge alcohol use, and 40% of the total is borne by the government.
Measuring such a big and abstract thing as economic damage from alcohol is inherently imprecise. If anything, the CDC says its estimates underestimate the true cost. It counted only factors in which alcohol was considered the primary cause, so illness or deaths from other causes that alcohol may have exacerbated are left out. Also, intangible costs like pain and suffering were not included.