The Financial Costs of Drinking Alcohol

Published On 28-January-2020
By Tim Wood

finanical costs alcohol

Even before a drinking habit does serious harm to a person's health, it can ruin them financially.

As well as the cost of alcohol itself, there is the risk of missing work, reduced productivity, and job loss. Alcoholism costs employers and employees countless dollars per year.

On the plus side, drinkers often recover. After a heavy drinker recovers from their addiction, they can usually recover financially. Losing a job over a drinking problem may hurt their career, but they can still get back on track.

How alcohol addiction can destroy a person's finances

Going out and drinking is not cheap. If someone pays for many drinks each weekend, the cost quickly adds up.

Someone who drinks every weekend may also pay for food, taxis, and entertainment. Someone with a drinking problem will drink on weekdays as well.

These expenses can add up to hundreds of dollars a week. Since alcohol is addictive, a person may go into debt to pay for their drinking habit.

Alcohol can also make a person impulsive. This impulsiveness can lead to reckless spending on things other than alcohol such as online shopping, gambling, and unnecessary goods or items. 

A drinking problem can also prevent a person from making money. Someone who shows up hungover at work is not going to get a promotion. Those who abuse alcohol can also miss days off work and may lose their jobs if they show up drunk.

Health problems can also be disastrous for a person's finances. A heavy drinker may have to pay for medical and dental expenses that they cannot afford.

In the UK, binge-drinking costs taxpayers nearly £4.9 million each year. [1] The cost of alcohol abuse also has a damaging effect on the healthcare economy.

How alcohol gets people into debt

A drinking problem has a good chance of throwing someone into debt, including high-interest credit card debt.

People often drink alcohol to deal with stress. Since being in debt is stressful, a vicious circle can appear.

An alcoholic might drink themselves into debt, become even more stressed out, and drink even more to deal with the stress. Sometimes it does not end until the one suffering from alcoholism becomes bankrupt and destitute.

A person with debt problems will often receive collection calls from creditors. These causes can cause anxiety, which can lead to drinking to numb the fear they experience.

Alcohol only prevents strain in the short run. In the long term, it weakens a person's physical and mental health, making anxiety more frequent.

How our society promotes drinking

Our society recommends alcohol as a way of dealing with the stress of life. The dangers of excessive drinking are known, but we still talk about alcohol as something that can reduce stress.

In the long run, this is not true. People talk about how they are going to have a few drinks to relax after a stressful day.

People also drink to celebrate positive events, and often we drink to socialize. Alcohol is also for dealing with adverse life events. It allows a person to forget about their troubles temporarily.

Emotions lead to drinking, and drinking can lead to a surge in emotions, whether they are positive or negative. The alcohol industry knows this and promotes its products for coping, celebrating, or socializing.

Holidays, birthdays, concerts, and sporting events are all advertised as occasions for drinking. A common perception is that alcohol is supposed to boost good emotions and numb bad emotions.

If you add up how much money you spend on alcohol, you may be surprised by how much it costs.

People often make realistic plans to quit drinking or smoking after they realize how much it costs per year.

If you include the cost of taxis and other drinking-related expenses, the cost can be even more shocking. You may decide that you should learn to have fun without alcohol more often.

Hangovers can cost you money

If a person has a hangover, they may spend money to deal with it. They might buy fast food, over the counter medications, or coffee to deal with the hangover.

None of this even works very well to treat a hangover. Only time will cause the feeling to go away.

In the UK, the cost of treating a hangover can significantly increase the price of a night out. Britons spend twenty pounds treating a hangover on average.

Binge drinking can reduce your income

Heavy drinking throughout your life can lower your total lifetime earnings. Right from the start, a drinking habit affects your present and future income.

If a person drinks heavily in college, they may ruin their grades. Lower grades can lead to lower lifetime earnings as well as lower ambition and motivation. 

Even late in life, binge drinking also lowers earnings. An older person may have to leave or mostly leave the workforce earlier if alcohol ruins their health.

A younger or middle-aged person might also hurt their income by drinking alcohol. Not only does alcohol lead to missing days at work - but it also leads to poor work performance.

Impaired work performance is known as presenteeism - showing up for work but working poorly.

Those who miss days miss out on promotions, and a person can lose their job for poor work performance even if they show up.

In the United States alone, of the $249 billion that binge drinking costs the US economy each year, about 11% is due to health care, 5% from motor vehicle crashes, 10% from legal costs, and the other 72% from lost work productivity [2].

Lost work productivity is not limited to missed days. Alcoholics do not work as well as others.

Drinking on the job can get you fired

Employers have the right and may even be obligated to fire employees that show up intoxicated.

An employer cannot knowingly allow their workers to show up work. Employers are legally bound to discipline employees who drink on the job.

Employees also have rights and cannot be unfairly singled out. Checking employees for alcohol and drug use must be done fairly, or it can be illegal.

If safety is crucial, an employer can randomly give an employee a breathalyzer test. If an employee is doing safe work, it is not always legal to randomly test them.

If you have been suspended or fired for showing up for work with some alcohol in your system, you might have a chance of getting your job back.

There are many rules that an employer must follow if they test their employees.

Understand that other people can notice when a person is drinking. If someone is drinking, they will behave significantly differently.

They may control their behavior up to a point, but some of the signs of being drunk are involuntary. Other people will notice.

Drinking at work is taken seriously, and employers often terminate rather than suspend workers that do this.

Alcohol can affect divorce settlements

If a married person is an alcoholic, they may end up with a divorce settlement that is firmly in their spouse's favor. In the United States, there are two ways a married couple can separate.

In a no-fault divorce, the couple splits up with neither person being blamed for the end of the marriage. In a fault divorce, a court decides that one spouse has wronged the other.

Alcohol and drug abuse are considered grounds for divorce in many parts of the United States. A divorce based on substance abuse may be considered a fault divorce, where all sorts of things go in favor of the sober spouse.

Child custody may go primarily to the sober spouse if alcoholism is affecting the parenting ability of the other.  Overnight visitation might not be allowed if one spouse is an alcoholic.

The division of property can go very much in favor of a spouse that successfully files for a fault divorce. A drinking problem can, therefore, cost someone their property. Alimony payments can also be higher if you lose a fault divorce case due to substance abuse.

How to curb impulsive spending

If you drink, you are more likely to waste money. If you have problems with compulsive online buying, put your credit cards away. Only keep your debit card in your wallet.

Put your credit card in a drawer or somewhere else where you will have to think twice before using it.

A credit card is for things you can quickly pay off. At worst, a credit card is for essential expenses that you cannot pay off right away.

Don't shop while drunk, or else you will want to buy things that you cannot afford or that are not worth the money.

Alcohol and college

A drinking habit often starts very early in life, in college or before. The stereotypical college student is a heavy drinker.

They are also on limited incomes and may not be able to afford to pay for alcohol. If a college student has a credit card, they will often acquire a fair bit of debt before the end of college.

Even though university students are not likely to make much money, banks are often happy to give them credit cards. Banks know that young students are impulsive and expected to spend more than they make.

Banks also know that students are not quite such a high risk that they will lose money if they give them credit cards.

Credit card debt has a higher interest rate than student loan debt and is the more dangerous of the two.

Students often take out both types of debt while in college. After spending their money on alcohol, they often use credit cards to pay for necessities.

On the plus side, drinking in college is not worse than ever before. While binge drinking is still prevalent, the young people of 2020 are less likely to drink a lot than students were a decade or two ago.

There is some evidence that they may be less willing to take on a lot of debt than the students of ten years ago.

The harm of drunk driving

Even if you do not crash and end up with a wrecked car, in jail, or dead, a drinking and driving charge is expensive. In the UK, you might be fined thousands of pounds for a single arrest.

You might end up with some jail time, even if there is no accident and no injuries. You will also lose your license.

A license suspension can be expensive, as you may need to pay for another way to get to work. You might also try to fight your charges in court, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Once regaining your license, the costs of insurance for those with a previous motoring conviction can be extremely expensive.

At worst, drink driving could lead to a jail sentence. Accidentally killing someone while drinking and driving is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

How to cut down on drinking

One of the best ways to reduce your drinking is to keep track of it. Write down exactly which days of the month you drink on a calendar. 

It may be more than you think it is. Once you have this information, you can estimate how much money it costs you.

You might also write down what situation you were in when you drank, and the results of this situation.

Try writing down what types of drinks you had and how many. Once you have enough information, it is easier to cut down on drinking.

You can also estimate how much money you spend on drinking. Multiply the number of drinks you have per week by the average price of each drink. You might be surprised by how much it costs you per week.

Figure out how much it costs you per month or year. Even someone who is not an alcoholic might spend thousands of dollars on alcohol each year.

Housing problems and alcohol

You will not be denied benefits if you are homeless. Social services may also be able to help you keep a place you rent or help you find a new place to go to.

You do not have to be a severe alcoholic to benefit from quitting or reducing drinking. Quitting drinking can improve your finances - and not only because of the cost of the alcohol, but in many other ways.

Getting back on track as a recovering alcoholic

While someone who manages to quit a severe drinking problem has achieved something real and essential, their troubles do not end there.

They may now have damaged credit, damaged relationships, and no way to get a decent paying job any time soon.

Real alcoholism is not rare. Around 24% of adults in the UK drink more than they should, and 27% admit to binge-dinking.  In the UK alone, alcohol is the fifth biggest danger to adult health and the highest risk-factor leading to death. [3]

Many or most alcoholics recover. A recovering alcoholic should get back into the workforce. They should start rebuilding their credit score by seeking financial advice. 

A good credit score is based on many different factors. Someone with good credit pays their bills on time. Having an excellent payment history is the most critical part of having good credit.

People who have been consistently making payments on a loan for a long time also have good credit. Making payments on newer loans is not as good for your credit score.

Borrowing almost as much money as your credit cards will allow you to borrow will lower your credit score. However, it is an advantage if you hold multiple types of debt that you make payments on.

If you make payments on a credit card, a student loan, and a car loan all at once, this shows that you can use debt responsibly.

Quitting drinking can benefit your health as well, and little is more important than your health.

References

[1] https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/effects-of-binge-drinking-cost-the-uk-4-9-billion-a-year/ 

[2] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

[3] https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics


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