The High Cost Of Alcohol Misuse In The US

By Victoria Kim 11/21/18

A USA Today editorial explores how the US can save lives and money by reducing alcohol consumption. 

women holding cups filled with alcohol in the US

Public health campaigns reduced cigarette smoking in the United States by more than half since 1964, according to the CDC. Can the same be done with alcohol?

A new report in USA Today reminds us that drinking alcohol—while it is socially acceptable and promoted widely—is no benign matter.

Alcohol is attributed to approximately 88,000 deaths every year in the U.S. About half of alcohol-related deaths involve binge drinking. According to a 2015 national survey, 15.1 million American adults were reported as having alcohol use disorder, with just about 6.7% of them receiving treatment for it.

“It’s just so socially acceptable, especially among the people who write the laws. It’s the drug of choice and incredibly normalized for upper income people in the USA,” says David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health.

In 2010, the public health cost of alcohol misuse in the U.S. was $249 billion—most of it involved binge drinking.

Alcohol-related deaths are reportedly on the rise. So what can be done about it?

USA Today explores several approaches to reducing alcohol consumption, and thus its public health costs:

Raising taxes

“Alcohol taxes are a win, win, win. States get more money and people drink somewhat less,” says Jernigan. According to the CDC, a 10% increase in taxes leads to a 5-8% decline in drinking. But critics of this policy say that state coffers will suffer while drinking levels remain the same. They claim that instead of giving up booze, people will opt to travel to other states where taxes aren’t as high.

Restricting sales

Municipal governments have the option of limiting the number of liquor stores per region, and the days and hours of operation. With fewer liquor stores per capita, the idea is to reduce sales and thus drinking.

Expanding access to treatment

Psychologist Ben Miller says that integrating mental health care in the practice of primary care physicians can “begin to change the culture of care to be more comprehensive.” This may improve early detection of drinking problems.

Teaching coping skills

Teaching resilience, coping skills and mental health literacy at a young age are important and can be effective in preventing kids from seeking an unhealthy relationship with mind-altering substances.

“The most important substance we should be looking at is alcohol, because it leads to so many things, including physical abuse and rape, that shouldn’t happen,” says Jernigan. “We need to stop accepting that there isn’t anything we can do about it.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr