$225 Billion? That’s a Hell of a Drink

$225 Billion? That’s a Hell of a Drink

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Booze Costs and Right Here is Where We Start Paying

Look, everyone knows that liquor ain’t free. But over at HuffPo, Patrick R. Krill, Director of the Legal Professionals Program at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, has made a strong case that alcohol is costing us more than we ever imagined.

The first cost of alcohol is actual cost, as in cash money. It’s concrete. We can count it. It’s also currently a bargain. Bar drinks are cheaper now than any time in the past 60 years, according to a 2013 study, as far as price-to-income goes. This is due in part to low taxes on alcohol. In other words, this is a great time to drink, monetarily speaking.

Oh Boy Did I Pay

Even though it’s relatively a bargain, it sure adds up. Like, I added mine up, and I kind of wish I hadn’t. But Krill got me wondering how much I’d spent on alcohol before I stopped drinking. And then I made a wish: that the IRS would refund me all the money I didn’t spend on booze last year. I know it’s ridiculous, that’s why it’s a wish and not proposed legislation. Back off.

Still, I did the math and it went a little something like this. I drank for 20 years (I know, I look too young, right?). Let’s estimate three drinks a night, five days a week. That’s 15 drinks a week. Let’s price each drink at $5. It might be on the low end, but we can assume some was cheap wine or beer or whatnot at home, and others were drinks out with friends. That’s $75 a week. In booze. If I were refunded the money I didn’t spend on alcohol last year, I’d have a nice fat check for $3,900. Not too shabby.

Now it gets really hard to swallow. I wondered, what if I had the money back from my 20-year drinking career? That would be $78,000. Excuse me, but GULP! That’s a down payment on a house. In some places, that’s an entire house. That’s college. That’s His and Hers Lexus’s (Lexi?). I drank the equivalent of a brand new Escalade. I drank an Escalade!

But Money Isn’t Everything

Of course there’s a cost to drinking other than dollars, which is Krill’s main beef: what excessive drinking costs society. According to a recent study by the CDC, the per capita economic impact of excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S. is about $746 per person. This is mostly due to binge drinking. Why is everybody looking at me? I’m sure other people did it. Right?

These numbers are based on things like losses in work productivity, health care costs, court costs, car wrecks and property damage. The study didn’t broaden to include psychological costs, pain, suffering, rehab, then getting sober and needing anti-depressants. (I may be projecting.) So when we consider the psychological and emotional costs, good ol’ John Barleycorn is costing society as a whole considerably more than $225 billion. What a jerk.

The Tax Ma’am, Just the Tax

Now strap in and consider this. Thirty percent of Americans don’t drink alcohol at all. And another 30 percent has maybe a drink a week. So it’s only about a third of the population doing most of the damage. Yikes! Krill argues that this makes drinking a political issue because the majority of citizens (60%) are shouldering the financial burden of the minority drinkers (30%). I can’t help but feel I owe some kind of amends there. I’m not sure how to start repaying $225 billion. Maybe I can write a letter and have my sponsor watch me burn it?

Bottom line: Krill wants to raise the booze tax. Researchers at the University of Florida Gainesville found that when Illinois increased its alcohol tax in 2009, alcohol-related auto fatalities were reduced and alcohol-related fatalities fell 26%.

Krill believes that a national increase in alcohol tax would have a huge positive impact, but the alcohol lobby won’t allow it. The occasional or moderate drinker wouldn’t suffer much from the tax and when hit in the wallet, the excessive drinker might have to slow down. Or get a second job, and then they wouldn’t have as much time to drink. So it’d still work.

Here’s what Krill didn’t weigh in on: drinkers who want to drink are going to drink, no matter the tax. It’s wonderful to try to poke a hole in alcohol, the third highest cause of death in the US, but I’ve never met an alcoholic who’d be dissuaded by having to spend an extra couple of bucks. But could taxes on booze slow some other people down?

I say it’s worth a shot (of tequila).

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Laura House is a sober writer and comedian. She was born in Grand Prairie, Texas, educated at the University of Texas at Austin, and lives and works in Los Angeles. She's written on the sketch show Blue Collar TV, and half-hour sit-coms including The George Lopez Show, Mad Love, Loosely Exactly Nicole, as well as the Emmy-winning shows Samantha Who and Mom. In addition she has developed four original pilots with ABC, FX and Nickelodeon. She currently works as a producer on the BAFTA-winning BBC series, The Secret Life of Boys. She performs at recovery shows all over the country. She recently performed at the NA world convention in Orlando. Her album Mouth Punch is available on all platforms.