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Utah pays high cost for binge drinking ills

Published August 14, 2013 12:29 pm

Centers for Disease Control • States pay an average of $2.9 billion for excessive drinking.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a state known for its low alcohol consumption, Utah is paying the nation's highest cost per alcoholic drink for ills associated with binge drinking.

All states are paying a high cost for excessive alcohol use, including deaths and property damage from fires and highway crashes, increased crime, lost worker productivity and chronic health problems, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Excessive alcohol use cost states and the District of Columbia an average of $2.9 billion — ranging from $420 million in North Dakota to $32 billion in California. Costs in Utah totaled $1.5 billion, according to the study, "State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption, 2006."

This means the median societal cost per state for each alcoholic drink consumed is about $1.91. The cost per drink in Utah is $2.74 — the highest in the nation — compared to $1.73 in Montana, $1.57 in Idaho and $1.23 in Nevada.

The study's coauthor, Robert Brewer, attributed the finding in Utah to a subset of residents who are binge drinking — and consuming more when they get blasted.

"There's a substantial amount of alcohol consumed in your state in form of binge drinking so the [societal] cost per drink is higher," said Brewer. "Utah has a fairly high intensity of binge drinking and the number of drinks per binge. Even though Utah has lower drinking rates overall, it still has a subset of people drinking at high levels and consuming quite a bit of alcohol when they do."

That assessment is similar to a state study in July showing that although most Utah teenagers stay away from alcohol, those under 21 who do drink are more likely than their peers nationwide to binge.

Binge drinking, defined as downing at least five drinks within two hours for men or four or more drinks for women, was responsible for more than 70 percent of excessive alcohol-use related costs in all states and D.C. Although students commonly binge, 70 percent of binges involve adults age 26 years and older, according to the CDC.

Susannah Burt, with the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said drinking has become a part of America's culture, "not just in Utah. But here, everything is amplified, whether it's religion or politics or drinking, sometimes making our behaviors more extreme. In Utah, there's a perception that we have so many restrictions that people sometimes feel the need to drink and when they do they may drink to excess."

Utah's dominant religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which preaches against alcohol consumption.

Doug Murakami, with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, has said Utah children also may be binge drinking as a way to rebel against the state's culture.

Nationally, about 55 percent of 12th-graders who drank in the past 30 days also engaged in binge drinking, compared with nearly 72 percent of Utah high school seniors who drank, according to the 2013 "Underage Drinking in Utah" report.

A similar pattern emerged among Utah eighth- and 10th-graders. Nearly 73 percent of Utah 10th-graders who drank went on a binge, compared with 54 percent of their national counterparts. Among eighth-graders who drink, nearly 85 percent binged, compared with half of drinking teens nationwide.

"Excessive alcohol use has devastating impacts on individuals, families, communities, and the economy," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "In addition to injury, illness, disease, and death, it costs our society billions of dollars through reduced work productivity, increased criminal justice expenses, and higher healthcare costs. Effective prevention programs can support people in making wise choices about drinking alcohol."

Strategies include limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets in a given area; holding retailers liable for harms related to the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and intoxicated patrons; limiting the days and hours when alcohol is sold; and increasing the price of alcohol.

The distilled spirits industry is opposed to raising taxes on alcohol, said Lisa Hawkins, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council. She said the industry supports strict law enforcement, education, screening and brief intervention targeted to problem drinkers.

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Binge drinking

This typically happens when men consume at least 5 or more drinks and women four over two hours:

Gender • Men are twice as likely to binge as women.

When • One in six adults binge about four times a month, downing about eight drinks.

Drunk driving • Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely drive while impaired by alcohol.

Incomes • More common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

How often • 92 percent of adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Who • Most common among adults aged 18–34 years, but seniors 65 years and older binge drink more often.

College • Although students commonly binge, 70 percent of binges involve adults age 26 years and older.

Minors • About 90 percent of alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 is binge drinking.

Overall • More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults is in the form of binge drinks.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention