Anyone that has ever had more than a few drinks at a party or let things go a little wild for a change knows the pains of a hefty hangover the next day. There’s the headache, nausea, or even the social pain that comes from making a fool of yourself in front of friends, coworkers, or perhaps those we are trying to impress or even hook up with. It can take a while to recover from. Then there’s just being exhausted, wanting to go back to bed or never wanting to get out of bed again. And what about the bill that came from all that booze? There’s the expensive wine with dinner or the costs of buying several rounds at the pub. But, that’s just one night, maybe just one bender that had us reeling. So, I got to thinking about this a bit…what is the true cost of drinking?
Have you ever wondered how much money we spend on alcohol – across our entire lifetime?
According to Onepoll, “The average person in Britain spends almost £50,000 on alcohol during their lifetime. Macmillan Cancer Support found each Briton spends around £787 a year on alcohol, with London’s concentration of drinkers spending sizably more. The research, conducted by Onepoll, surveyed 2,000 over-18s. Men spent an average of £934.44 per year, the data found, compared with women spending £678.60.” According to the Office for National Statistics in 2015, the average gross annual earnings for full-time employees was £27,600. So, if the average person spends £50k over his or her lifetime, the bar tab comes out to about two year’s income spent on booze. Whoa. That’s a lot. Just think of the money you'd save it you took a liver-vacation!
Knowing that I couldn’t stop from looking at this further. What about the costs spread across the whole country? And what about costs beyond just the tab at the end of the night? There have been many studies to try to assess the total cost of alcohol misuse to the U.K. economy. Some of the findings show an impact that is so big, it’s hard to comprehend. Towards the end of 2016, Public Health England estimated that alcohol-related crime, lost work output, and ill health costs us in the UK somewhere between £27 – £52 billion a year. That’s 1.3%-2.7% of our entire GDP.
The costs of alcohol misuse cost us up to 2.7% of our entire yearly GDP. Upwards to £52bn a year. That’s billion. With a b. In one year.
That’s hard to fathom.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper and figure out what’s taken into consideration to come up with a number so big.
There are many uncertainties and lots of disagreement about what should be included as a cost and how costs are to be measured when looking at the price we pay for alcohol misuse across our society. It’s easy to see why. I don’t envy the task, but when it comes to a society trying to mitigate the costs and protect its citizens, it’s obvious it has to be done.
Public Health England started by placing the costs of alcohol-related harm into three categories. “Overall, the harmful use of alcohol results in a significant health, social and economic cost to society and ranks among the five top risk factors for disease, disability, and injury throughout the world. There are three major categories of alcohol-related health, social and economic costs: Direct, Indirect and Intangible.”
The financial levy of alcohol consumption includes costs to health and social care; when the police or other emergency services need to be involved; the cost to the criminal justice system, and unemployment and welfare systems. That’s a lot of governmental involvement.
The indirect costs include things like loss of work (when we stay in bed or just don’t perform at the level we would when we are clear headed and well rested), unemployment (perhaps we really did make an ass of ourselves at the holiday party), or continued unemployment from alcoholism, reduced earnings potential, and worst of all, lost working years due to premature pension or death.
The intangible costs also include pain and suffering (not just to the sufferer, but the spouse or child of the alcoholic experiences trauma too), poor quality of life, and “costs from money spent on alcohol in families where the money should be spent on other things.”
It’s easy to see these things can add up. So, the government comes up with the policy as a way to bring down costs and all the adverse effects of alcohol abuse. Policies include drinking age, driving under the influence limits and penalties, marketing and pricing restrictions, taxation, access restrictions, density of alcohol outlets, quality of booze, and the debate we are all familiar with – hours of access. The list goes on and there are studies after studies about their effectiveness. In addition, they obviously have a price themselves for all the research, implementation, study of the effectiveness and keeping them up to date.
And in the midst of all this work, an unexpected finding happened a couple years ago that directly relates to us at OYNB. Many of us will remember the research professor Kevin Moore did at the Royal Free Hospital regarding the effects of not drinking for one month, published by the New Scientist, Jan 2014.
The results were “staggering”!
To recap, Mr. Moore initially was involved in a small experiment involving ten journalists from New Scientist magazine, who were all considered average drinkers. They all agreed to go “dry” for the month of January in 2014. The results were “staggering.” The volunteers lost 40% of their liver fat, lost 3kg in weight, had reduced cholesterol and lower glucose levels, slept better and had increased their ability to concentrate.
He told The Independent: “When you give up alcohol [for one month] … there is a significant reduction in blood pressure, a significant reduction in cholesterol, [and] an improvement of glucose and insulin resistance which has a major impact on both maturity-onset diabetes as well as the development of fatty liver disease.”
“If [a clinical trial] had a drug that lowered blood pressure by the amount we’ve observed in those that stopped drinking alcohol, the company would be excited beyond belief. If they then also found it reduced cholesterol, they would be doubly excited… it’s such a good story, there’s no drugs that do that.” He went further to say, “These results were very striking and if you had a drug which was able to do all these things, then it would be a multi-billion pound market.”
£52bn divided by 12 months and 1% of that is £43m. Now the numbers aren’t exactly that straightforward, but somewhere close to $43m is a hell of a lot of money.
What if 10% of us took a month off? £433m?
This makes me wonder… What's the NHS deficit? Right! £1.85bn!
Okay, for God and Country! We’ll need the lot of you to go dry January! Or Go Sober For October with MacMillan.
With such an impact on individuals, it’s worth again considering the impact on society at large. We saw the financial impact boozing has on us as taxpayers in just one year: a “staggering” £52 billion price tag. So, what if a percentage of Brits in the UK did this once a year? What if only 1% of us in the UK took only one month a year off from drinking? What difference would that make?
And further consider, maybe this idea of taking a month off boozing isn’t such a small idea after all…
An entrepreneur and former senior oil broker, Ruari gave up drinking after excessive consumption almost cost him his marriage, and worse, his life. Going alcohol-free improved his relationships, career and energy levels, leading to him founding OYNB to provide a support network for others.