The Cost of Excessive Alcohol Use in the U.S.

Economic Impact Equals About $2.05 Per Drink

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Economic Costs of Alcohol Abuse Is Billions. © Getty Images

Excessive alcohol consumption claims an estimated 88,000 lives each year in the United States, but the cost to society doesn't end there. The economic impact of heavy drinking is estimated at $249 billion a year, or about $2.05 per drink.

The costs average out to $807 per person in the U.S.

According to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two of every $5 of the cost of excessive alcohol use was paid by the government, three-quarters of the costs were due to binge drinking, and most of the costs came in losses in workplace productivity.

Taxpayers Pay the Majority of the Costs

A CDC study of alcohol-related costs to the nation in 2010 (published in November 2015) shows that of the total $249 billion costs to the U.S. economy:

  • Government paid for $100.7 billion (40.4%)
  • Binge drinking accounted for $191.1 billion (76.7%)
  • Underage drinking $24.3 billion (9.7%)
  • Drinking while pregnant $5.5 billion (2.2%)

Alcohol Costs by State

Breaking the costs of excessive alcohol consumption down by state and the District of Columbia, the median cost per state was $3.5 billion. Binge drinking was responsible for more than 70% of state costs and more than 40% of state costs were paid for by the government.

The costs per state ranged from $488 million in North Dakota to $35 billion in California. Washington D.C. had the highest cost per person average at $1,526, compared to the $807 national average.

The highest cost per drink average was in New Mexico at $2.77, compared to the $2.05 national average.

Businesses Lose in Productivity

Most of the cost of excessive drinking came in the following areas:

  • Workplace productivity 72%
  • Health care expenses 11%
  • Criminal justice expenses 10%
  • Motor vehicle crashes 5%

Amounts Are Underestimated

The CDC researchers noted that the estimated $249 billion in annual costs for excessive drinking are actually underestimated because information on alcohol is often under-reported or unavailable.

In addition, the CDC study did not take into account other costs including pain and suffering due to alcohol-related injuries and diseases, by the drinkers or their families.

The $249 billion also does not include an additional $193 in costs that society pays each year for illicit drug use in the U.S., according to the Surgeon General's 2016 report on alcohol, drugs, and health.

Alcohol Involvement Not Always Reported

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has also noted the difficulty in estimating the precise costs to society of excessive drinking due to the fact that alcohol's involvement in injuries and accidents are not always reported by hospitals and emergency departments.

The NIAAA also reports that many costs resulting from alcohol problems cannot be measured directly, such as placing a dollar value on lost productivity, absenteeism, and extra sick days.

Strategies for Reducing Binge Drinking

The researchers noted that the quickest way to reduce these overall costs to society would be to reduce binge drinking, defined as drinking four or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women or five or more drinks per occasion for men.

The CDC researchers suggested using several evidence-based strategies can help reduce excessive drinking and related costs, including:

  • Implementing pricing strategies to increase the price of alcohol
  • Regulating the number and location of where alcohol is sold (outlet density).
  • Reducing the days and hours of alcohol sales.
  • Holding alcohol retailers liable for injuries or damages caused by their intoxicated or underage customers.
  • Avoiding moving from state-controlled alcohol sales to commercial alcohol sales (privatization).

By implementing these strategies, communities can reduce excessive alcohol consumption and the many health and social costs related to it, the CDC said.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy." Data & Statistics November 2015

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Estimating the Economic Cost of Alcohol Abuse." Alcohol Alert 1991.

Sacks, JJ, et al. "2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption." American Journal of Preventive Medicine November 2015

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, Executive Summary." Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.

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