By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
Saint Patrick’s Day
When graded by your local police, Saint Patrick’s Day is a more troublesome day for alcohol abuse than even New Year’s Eve. In fact, except for Super Bowl Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day is the number one “holiday” for arrests, citations and emergency room admissions.
All because we Americans sometimes think it is OK to drink and over-drink until we are drunk. On these three holidays and others, including Independence Day on July 4th we act as if we had a license to drink – a mandate from God to allow drunkenness and bad behavior.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA),alcohol abuse and its related problems cost society many billions of dollars each year.
Estimates of the economic costs of alcohol abuse attempt to assess in monetary terms the damage that results from the misuse of alcohol. These costs include expenditures on alcohol-related problems and opportunities that are lost because of alcohol.
This Alcohol Alert addresses issues pertaining to estimates of the costs of alcohol abuse, focusing on the types of costs considered and on the various problems associated with their estimation.
While many difficulties in cost estimation are common to cost-of-illness studies in other health fields, two problems are particularly relevant to the case of alcohol abuse. First, researchers attempt to identify costs that are caused by, and not merely associated with, alcohol abuse, yet it is often hard to establish causation. Second, many costs resulting from alcohol abuse cannot be measured directly. This is especially true of costs that involve placing a dollar value on lost productivity. Researchers use mathematical and statistical methods to estimate such costs, yet recognize that this is imprecise. Moreover, costs of pain and suffering of both people who abuse alcohol and people affected by them cannot be estimated in any reliable way, and are therefore not considered in most cost studies.
These difficulties underscore the fact that although the economic cost of alcohol abuse can be estimated, it cannot be measured precisely. Nevertheless, estimates of the cost give us an idea of the dimensions of the problem, and the breakdown of costs suggests to us which categories are most costly. In the most recent cost study, Rice and co-workers estimated that the cost to society of alcohol abuse was $70.3 billion in 1985; a previous study by Harwood and colleagues estimated that the cost for 1980 was $89 billion.
By adjusting cost estimates for the effects of inflation and the growth of the population over time, Rice projected that the total cost of alcohol abuse in 1988 was $85.9 billion, and Harwood projected that the cost in 1983 was $116 billion.
Some clinicians, working closely with economy analysts, today estimate the total cost of alcohol abuse in America as in excess of $300 billion annually.
Although these figures are staggering, they have little deterrent impact on a drinker headed out for a night on the town.
So let’s just bottom line this beast alcohol right now.Attend any Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and you are likely to hear a story of how alcohol lead someone to total professional and personal ruin. Many successful men and women succumb to the disease of alcoholism. They can tell stories about losing their spouse, kids, job, fortune, house (or houses) and car (or cars).
I personally know people who, after being highly successful and relatively wealthy, ended up living in shopping carts. I even have a friend that was thrown out of a bridge overpass and his “home” in a cardboard box. It seems his excessive drinking was too much for his wino “roommates – who asked him to leave.
And every reader (just about) who has made it this far will say: “I am not an alcoholic. I just drink.”
Everyone says this at first. AA calls it “denial.” Honest self assessment and a desire to be sober are essential to AA – and are in fact the only entry ticket you need to go to any AA meeting.