Wall Street Journal
by Katherine Hobson
Six-packs of beer come cheap, but the cost of underage drinking can add up.
An analysis by researchers at the Mayo Clinic estimates hospitalization charges alone for incidents related to underage drinking at $755 million in 2008.
That covers an estimated 39,619 admissions for conditions such as alcohol intoxication, withdrawal, abuse and dependence, and alcohol-induced mood problems, says Terry Schneekloth, an author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mayo.
It’s also likely an underestimate, since it doesn’t include the kind of uncomplicated alcohol-intoxication cases that show up in the emergency room but don’t result in an admission, he says. And some alcohol-related cases may not be coded as such when the patient is discharged, he says.
(The $755 million covers hospital charges, or the sticker price of services. Actual payment will be lower, depending on the reimbursement from insurance companies.)
Some 79% of the cases included acute intoxication — in other words, the patient was really drunk when he or she got to the hospital. More than 24% of the cases involved some kind of injury, most commonly a traffic accident. Those injury-related cases racked up a disproportionate chunk — an estimated $505 million — of the total charges.
The average age of the hospitalized underage drinkers in the study was 18, and 61% were men. While men made up the majority of cases, there’s a “cultural shift” going on that includes more women engaging in the kind of binge drinking that can land them in the hospital, says Schneekloth. “Young men and young women are doing this,” he says.
Demographically, more than 70% were white. In general, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders had lower rates of hospitalization than did whites. People of Native American and mixed-race descent had higher rates than whites, but the number of hospitalizations was small, making those estimates imprecise, the study authors write.
The study drew from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample data, which cover all payers, and calculated estimates for the entire country. It appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Last year a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegged the cost of heavy boozing at $220 billion in 2006.
Keywords: cost of drinking, youth, children, families, injuries