The government pays about $100 billion of that total cost via things like Medicare and Medicaid payments, the criminal justice system and the like. The rest falls on private citizens and entities, like you and your employer.
These estimates are derived from a number of previous studies that examined the alcohol-attributable costs of various negative societal and health outcomes. So there's a level of abstraction and flat-out guesswork involved that's worth keeping in mind.
Still, these are probably the best possible estimates of alcohol's total cost to society. The CDC's researchers took them a step further, too: By factoring in the total amount of alcohol consumed in a given year, they were able to derive the societal cost of a single standard drink. That pumpkin spice martini that cost you $15 at the bar last night? It also carries a hidden cost to society of $2.05.
And that cost-per-drink varies by state, too, because of different economic conditions in different places. An hour of lost productivity costs differently depending on whether it happens in New York or Nebraska, for instance. The state-level per-drink cost of heavy drinking ranges from $0.92 (New Hampshire) to $2.77 (New Mexico).
"So, Chris," I hear you saying. "If I tell you where I live and how many Jaegerbombs I pound in a given week, can you tell me how much my drinking habit is dragging the economy down?"
You better believe it! Use the drop-downs below to select your state and your typical weekly alcohol consumption, and you'll see the total annual societal cost of your drinking. Remember: "Drink" means "standard alcoholic beverage," or the equivalent of one 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, one 5-oz. glass of wine or one 12-oz. beer. So if you pour six ounces of Captain Morgan into a mug and top it off with a splash of coke, that counts as four drinks, not one.
As I mentioned above, federal and state governments spend roughly $100 billion a year to deal with these costs. This amount greatly exceeds the revenue that alcohol taxes bring in, which works out to something like $16 billion a year -- $6 billion from state and local taxes, and $10 billion from federal excise taxes.
This is why a lot of researchers think that state and federal alcohol taxes should be raised. This would have the dual benefit of making heavy drinkers drink less and helping to pay for the costs of their drinking. Federal alcohol taxes are currently at historic lows. But lawmakers, with the support of the spirits industry, want to make them even lower.
On the other hand, the alcoholic beverage industry says that it contributes $400 billion in economic activity to the U.S. economy each year. So even with a $249 billion annual cost, the overall economic impact of our drinking habit would be a net positive.
Regardless, the CDC's new numbers serve as a reminder that every time you toss back a drink, Uncle Sam is paying part of the tab.