Minnesotans run up an annual tab of nearly $8 billion in costs associated with excess drinking, according to a study published this week by researchers from the Minnesota Department of Health. That amounts to nearly $1,400 for every resident of the state.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is believed to be the first to calculate the costs of drinking for a single state.
"I see this study as a way we can educate everybody about the fact that excessive drinking is really costly," said Kari Gloppen, a senior research scientist with the department and the state's alcohol epidemiologist.
"Really, the cost is being paid by all of us. And everyone can have a role to play in reducing excessive drinking and the related harm."
According to the researchers, the total annual cost of excess drinking in Minnesota is $7.85 billion. The largest share of that figure is attributed to lost productivity at work, a total of $2.5 billion. Other major costs included mortality at $1.7 billion; criminal justice, $959 million; healthcare, $915 million, and motor vehicle crashes, $296 million.
The researchers determined that binge drinkers accounted for nearly three-quarters of the costs. About 18% of Minnesota adults reported binge drinking within the last month, defined as five or more drinks within two hours for a man, or four or more drinks for a woman.
"It's important to note that many of these costs are associated with binge drinking," Gloppen said, pegging the costs of binge drinking at 73% of the total.
Liquor industry groups said they are doing their best to discourage problem drinking. Paul Kaspszak, executive director of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, said the study highlights the problems that could come with making alcohol more widely available through sales in grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations. His group represents "munis," the municipally owned and operated liquor outlets in the state.
"Increased access to alcohol results in greater alcohol-related societal problems," Kaspszak said.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association represents small liquor retailers, including bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Executive Director Tony Chesak said his group's members "take alcohol regulations very seriously and have the most informative and up-to-date in-house and online server training that's specific to our local regulations. We understand the health implications of alcohol consumption," adding that his group's members are "determined to responsibly control these substances."
Mary Manning, an assistant health commissioner, said there are no plans afoot to squeeze liquor sales through such avenues as increased taxes. What's important to the Health Department, she said, is getting a good understanding of the costs of excess drinking and educating the public on the dangers.
"Awareness is a huge issue, and that's usually a big step in public health prevention," Manning said. "We don't have any proposals on the table, but in many of our activities around chronic disease prevention, we are more and more talking about considering alcohol abuse."
The state already supports several initiatives on alcohol abuse. Place of Last Drink, a program implemented in nearly 30 communities, encourages law enforcement to collect information on where a person accused of alcohol-related crimes was last served a drink.
Authorities can use that information to identify establishments that are named most frequently and work with them to educate their managers and servers on the issues of excess drinking.
The state also supports programs aimed at helping primary medical providers intervene with their patients and assist them in developing a plan to reduce their drinking or refer them for treatment.
The study's findings didn't startle Manuel Garcia, manager of outpatient and Spanish services for Hazelden Betty Ford in St. Paul.
"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised to see this at all," Garcia said. "Substance use disorders attack the things that matter most to us. Families get affected, health gets affected, jobs get affected.
"Alcohol affects the frontal lobe [of the brain], which is responsible for decision-making. So it's not surprising that people would lose the ability to be productive and make decisions in line with how we hope to see people contribute to society.
"The silver lining we can find in this is there is hope," Garcia said. "People don't need to go through the entire curve downwards before they can seek help."