The Impact of Alcoholism on Society

young Daughter Looking at drunk Mother on the couch
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In This Article

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.

How Alcoholism Affects Society

Approximately 13.9% of people in the United States will meet the criteria for severe alcohol use disorder in their lifetimes, 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 77% 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 Alcoholism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the cost of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. alone reaches $249 billion annually. Around 77% 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% of the cost of binge drinking is paid by federal, state, and local governments.

The biggest cost is loss of workplace productivity. Healthcare costs, crime and law enforcement, as well as motor vehicle crashes are 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 Expense of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol consumption is a risk factor in numerous 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.

An estimated $28 billion is spent each year on alcohol-related health care.

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 $25 billion.

Impact of Alcoholism 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. Research suggests that the risk of intimate partner violence rises not only in the context of frequent drinking, but also when a partner has consumed a large volume of drinks in one sitting.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Alcohol Abuse and 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 lifelong and permanent.

Children who grow up in a home with a loved one dealing with alcohol addiction may be affected as well; they are at significant risk 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.

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