Editorial Roundup: The high cost of the state’s alcohol abuse

Published 8:49 pm Friday, August 19, 2022

Minnesota has a drinking problem.

A recent study from the state Department of Health (MDH), published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, documents that excessive alcohol consumption costs Minnesota nearly $8 billion yearly, around $1,400 per resident, based on 2019 data.

Among those costs were health care ($915 million), mortality ($1.7 billion), criminal justice ($959 million), and motor vehicle crashes ($296 million). Lost work productivity accounted for $2.5 billion.

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“Excessive drinking can significantly affect individual health, but it also has a cost for families, communities and the health care system,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “The financial burden is staggering, and of course there are additional psychological and societal impacts and harms in addition to those measured here. It’s important that we acknowledge these impacts and find ways to mitigate them.”

Binge drinking is the primary culprit, accounting for about three-quarters of the costs. That’s defined as four or more drinks on an occasion for women, five or more for men, and heavy drinking of eight or more drinks per week for women, 15 or more weekly for men, or any drinking among pregnant women or people under age 21.

Mary Manning, an assistant MDH commissioner, told an editorial writer that all Minnesotans could contribute to solutions. She said raising awareness and educating the public about the costs and dangers of excessive drinking is critical.

“We need to support one another when we socialize — offer beverage options (other than liquor) and understand that you don’t have to drink to have a good time,” she said. “And in many of our activities around chronic disease prevention, we are more and more talking about considering alcohol abuse.”

Manning pointed out that the state already sponsors several efforts to curb alcohol abuse. Nearly 30 state communities participate in Place of Last Drink, a program encouraging law enforcement to collect information on where a person accused of alcohol-related crimes was last served. Authorities can then identify establishments that are named most frequently and work with them to help prevent excessive drinking.

The state also supports programs aimed at helping primary medical providers intervene with their patients and assist them in developing plans to reduce drinking or find treatment.

To address binge drinking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional recommendations, including pricing strategies such as increased alcohol taxes to decrease consumption and limit the number of outlets selling alcohol in a given area. Individuals can use a CDC tool called “Check Your Drinking” to learn more about their habits and make plans to avoid problem drinking.

For safer roads, healthier minds and bodies, and more productive lives, Minnesotans should work together to reduce the high cost of alcohol abuse. Admitting that this state has a problem is the first step.

— Minneapolis Star-Tribune,  Aug. 16

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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