Impact of Alcohol Abuse on Society

There's often a ripple effect when a loved one abuses alcohol

Daughter Looking at Mother
Alcoholism and children. Richard Hutchings / Getty Images

The real-world impact of alcohol abuse reaches far beyond the financial costs. When a loved one has a problem with alcohol, it can affect their marriage and their extended family. There's also the larger impact on the community, schools, the workplace, the healthcare system and on society as a whole.

Approximately 14 million people in the United States meet the criteria for severe alcohol use disorders and alcohol is involved in more than 88,000 deaths per year.

But it's not necessarily people who have alcohol addiction having the biggest impact on these figures. It's estimated that more than 75 percent of the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S. is due to binge drinking, and most binge drinkers are not alcohol-dependent.

Financial Costs of Alcohol Abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the cost of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. alone exceeds $200 billion annually. More than 70 percent of that is attributed to binge drinking, defined as four or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women or five or more drinks per occasion for men.

The CDC estimates that 40 percent of the cost of excessive alcohol consumption is paid by federal, state, and local governments.

The money went toward a variety of expenses, with the biggest chunk going toward lost workplace productivity. Healthcare costs, crime and law enforcement, and motor vehicle crashes were also among the top alcohol-related expenses.

 

The CDC estimates that these figures are all underestimated because alcohol's involvement in sickness, injury, and death is not always available or reported. These figures also do not include some medical and mental health conditions that are the result of alcohol abuse.

Also not included in these figures are the work days that family members miss due to the alcohol problems of a loved one.

Healthcare Costs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol consumption is a risk factor in 25 chronic diseases and conditions, and alcohol plays a significant role in certain cancers, psychiatric conditions, and numerous cardiovascular and digestive diseases. Additionally, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

The majority of the estimated $28 billion spent each year on alcohol-related health care goes toward the treatment of unintentional and intentional alcohol-related injuries.

Alcohol-Related Aggression and Violence

Along with unintentional injury, alcohol plays a significant role in intentional injuries as a result of aggression and violence. Alcohol has been linked to physical violence by a variety of research studies.

On top of the healthcare cost of alcohol-related intentional violence in the United States, the estimated annual cost to the criminal justice system is another estimated $25 billion.

Alcohol's Effect on the Family

The social impact of alcohol abuse is a separate issue from the financial costs involved, and that impact begins in the home, extends into the community, and often affects society as a whole, much like the financial impact does.

Research on the effects of alcohol abuse on families shows that alcohol abuse and addiction plays a role in intimate partner violence, causes families' financial problems, impairs decision-making skills, and plays a role in child neglect and abuse.

As with the financial costs of alcohol abuse, studies have found occasional binge drinking can affect families also. One study revealed that "spousal violence is more likely not only when a partner is alcohol dependent or a problem drinker, but also when the partner is an infrequent drinker who occasionally drinks heavily."

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Children

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most common direct consequences of parental alcohol use in the United States, caused by alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy. Children with FAS display a variety of symptoms, many of which are life-long and permanent.

Children who grow up in a home with a loved one dealing with alcohol addiction may be affected as well; they are likely to develop alcohol use disorders themselves.

Growing up in a home where at least one parent has a severe alcohol use disorder can increase a child's chances of developing psychological and emotional problems.

Sources:

Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, "The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic." (Attributed to Tony A., 1978).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy." Data & Statistics.

Gmel, G et al. "Harmful Alcohol Use." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Publication.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Measuring the Burden—Alcohol’s Evolving Impact on Individuals, Families, and Society." Alcohol Research: Current Reviews 2013

Moss HB, "The impact of alcohol on society: a brief overview." Social Work in Public Health 2013

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