CDC: High price of excessive drinking costs D.C.

In D.C., the per-person cost of drinking amounted to $1,662 in 2006. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says excessive drinking is costing the nation billions. And the highest tab per person is in Washington, D.C.

The national bill was $224 billion in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. In D.C., the per-person cost amounted to a whopping $1,662 in 2006.

“I certainly know there is a big problem in Washington, D.C.,” says psychiatrist Risa Fishman, medical director of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

She says in her clinic, they see a lot of patients whose alcohol abuse is associated with poverty. Heavy drinking is a problem that affects all economic and social classes, she adds.

The CDC says binge drinking was responsible for more than 70 percent of excessive alcohol use related costs in D.C. and all states. Binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men or four or more drinks on an occasion for women, according to the CDC.

Fishman says she is not surprised the financial cost is so high. The CDC says in D.C., lost productivity accounts for more than 82 percent of the cost of excessive drinking.

“A lot of people who were out drinking the night before don’t show up for work the next day, or may have reduced effectiveness in their work,” Fishman says.

The CDC cites expenses linked to traffic accidents and medical bills, too. Fishman says she has seen firsthand the impact that alcoholism and binge drinking can have on health care costs, noting that excessive alcohol in the body can result in everything from liver damage to depression.

But as a psychiatrist, she says she is perhaps most aware of the human cost of heavy drinking.

“I think it just creates suffering throughout society,” she says, noting its effect on families and children.

“It really can destroy the life of the person who is drinking,” she adds. “And it can destroy the lives of the people around that person.”

The CDC’s study found Utah had the highest cost per drink at $2.74. Also, about $2 of every $5 in state costs were paid by government, according to the study.

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