Binge drinkers cost Utah $1.2 billion in missed work, health care expenses and crime

Drinking one glass of wine with dinner is reasonable.

Consuming a pre-dinner cocktail, followed by wine with your meal, then another drink with dessert and maybe a nightcap before bed is, according to health experts, excessive.

And if you’re doing that once a week — or four to five times a month— then you may be one of the 12.5 percent of Utahns who binge drink, according to the “Excessive Alcohol Use” report released recently by the Utah Department of Health.

Being an excessive drinker is different from having an alcohol dependency in which a person is unable to limit alcohol consumption. But excessive drinking is still an economic burden on the state and its residents, costing Utah $1.2 billion a year in missed work, additional health care costs, increased crime and justice-related expenses, according to the report, which uses state health statistics and national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Everyone is affected,” said Anna Buckner, an epidemiologist with the department’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program, “so it’s important that people understand what excessive use is.”

Binge drinkers and their families pay the largest amount of the binge-drinking bill at $512 million, Buckner said. State government takes on $292 million of the financial burden, followed by the federal government at $227 million and others in society at $201 milllion.

According to the CDC numbers, binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks in a single occasion for women and five or more for men. Heavy drinking is at least eight drinks per week for women and 14 for men.

When compared with other states, Utah’s 12.5 percent binge drinking rate is the fourth lowest. Only Tennessee (11.3), West Virginia (11.8) and Mississippi (12.3) were lower, the CDC numbers show.

Utah’s level also is below the national average of 16.9 percent and half that of the District of Columbia and North Dakota, which have the highest binge rates of 25.5 percent and 24.8 percent, respectively.

Utah’s numbers are due partly to its teetotaling population — 60 percent of residents are Mormons, who are taught to abstain from alcohol.

But the state still has work to do, said Buckner, noting that an average of 33 people died each year from alcohol poisoning from 2010 to 2012. That put Utah seventh highest in the nation for the number of such deaths.

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