People who engage in alcoholic behavior often think their drinking is a personal choice; it has no impact on those around them, and their excessive drinking is “no one’s business but my own.” In recovery, these same people are surprised to learn the devastation their alcohol abuse brought on the lives of those around them.
As a culture, when we hear that the number of people affected by alcoholism is growing, we seem to think, “That’s their business — “their” being the alcoholic.”
The findings of recent studies, however, challenge that notion that drinking only impacts the alcoholic. A careful cost analysis of the complex cycle of alcoholism reveals it as a disease that reaches deep into the pockets of our national, state, and local finances to trigger a multitude of “hidden costs.”
Dangerous behaviors common among alcoholics include impaired judgment and coordination, falling asleep at the wheel, falling asleep with lit cigarettes, aggressive outbursts, drinking to the point of vomiting, hangover, or alcohol poisoning — and these are just the ones most alcoholics experience in the course of their disease. All of these behaviors will eventually hit the system, in the form of health care costs, criminal justice costs, motor vehicle crash costs, and workplace productivity
The Hidden Costs of Alcoholism are Not Small.
It is estimated that alcohol-related expenses cost federal, state, and local governments $223.5 billion. Of that amount, taxpayers are footing the bill for $94.2 billion.
And in spite of our best efforts, alcoholism continues to take about 216 lives every day, or approximately 79,000 per year.
Who else ends up paying the costs of alcoholism? In addition to friends and family, the workplace suffers as the alcoholic worker becomes unreliable, repeatedly absent, and then gone. If the company is not losing productivity, then the alcoholic’s coworkers are pulling extra weight and, in essence, paying the cost of the individual’s absence.
Alcohol Recovery and Addiction
Once a person is addicted to alcohol, to stop it may take hospitalizations, rehabilitations, and re-rehabilitations all of which hemorrhage expenses — not to mention destroy relationships and property. The estimated cost to the system of this specialized addiction care is $24.6 billion. Since addiction is a disease that rewires the brain, the individual is unlikely to quit through “willpower” alone, and it often takes something dramatic (or “hitting rock bottom”) before they will make changes. There are costs associated with these dramatic scenarios. In the case of car accidents caused by driving drunk, costs include not just hospitalization, but the cost to insurance companies, car owners, municipal employees responding to the accident, and a continued chain reaction of costs that could ultimately include vehicular homicides and funeral expenses.
Costs associated with alcohol-related vehicular accidents alone are estimated at a staggering $14 billion a year.