Blog Editors’ Note: Our substance abuse prevention partners at New Futures recently analyzed the costs of excessive alcohol consumption in New Hampshire. Here, study author and self-proclaimed “nerd” Brian Gottlob shares the report’s key findings.
Phoenix House: Tell us how you partnered with New Futures to conduct this study.
Brian Gottlob: In order to get public policy enacted, lawmakers need to have issues monetized. A cause may be near and dear to an advocacy group like New Futures, but when governments make decisions, they do so with the economic aspect in mind. So, when it came to the problem of excessive alcohol consumption, New Futures needed someone to translate the issue into dollars and cents—and I was the nerd to do it.
Phoenix House: How did you conduct this study; what data sources did you use?
BG: The data was multi-faceted and came from many sources, including unique New Hampshire economic data as well as large national data sets. We determined that excessive alcohol consumption costs New Hampshire more than $1.15 billion annually in lost productivity and earnings, increased expenditures for healthcare, and public safety expenses. When lawmakers see that figure, they’re going to be taken aback. But all the numbers in the report point toward the same conclusion, which gives me confidence that what we’re saying is credible and accurate.
PH: How did you define “excessive alcohol consumption” for the purposes of this study?
BG: There are broad categories of excessive alcohol consumption, but it’s primarily defined as binge drinking, underage drinking, lifetime dependency, and drinking during pregnancy.
PH: Why is this such an issue in our country and in New Hampshire specifically?
BG: Everyone knows someone who has been dramatically or adversely affected by alcohol. When we look at the aggregate of those individual tragedies and their impact on others, the magnitude of this problem is greater than most people think. It demands to be elevated to a public policy level—especially in New Hampshire where alcohol constitutes the fourth or fifth largest source of revenue for the state. We have no sales tax and a pretty vibrant tourism industry; we have the highest per capita sales of alcoholic beverages of any state in the country. Our state’s motto is “live free or die,” meaning we have a strong belief in limited government and lawmakers don’t jump to come up with services. However, this study makes the case that we can’t just consider the revenue from alcohol sales; we have to step up our efforts to address the costs.
PH: You mention that excessive drinking has a high cost in specific areas, such as productivity and healthcare. What is the significance of these findings?
BG: The thing that really jumps out at me is the productivity aspect. A $700 million loss in productivity may be only one percent of the state economy, but in New Hampshire, that’s still a big number. When businesspeople see the numbers, they can understand and we’re broadening our base of allies. In terms of healthcare, everyone is concerned about medical costs—and the costs of excessive drinking are so preventable. Only six percent of people who need substance abuse treatment in New Hampshire receive it. Our state spends more than $200 million a year on the health consequences of drinking and a lot of it could be saved if we got more people into treatment. That’s why geeks like me do what we do—to supplement that message with a dollar amount.
PH: What are the implications of this study for the substance abuse treatment field?
BG: My hope is that this study gives the field a tool to make a case for increased rates of treatment and prevention. It’s one thing to say that alcohol is a problem. It’s another thing to show potential savings. The report provides a much stronger argument as to why the state should fund treatment at a higher level.
PH: Whom are you hoping to reach with this report, and what do you hope to accomplish?
BG: The document is designed for policymakers, but also to broaden the coalition on this issue. If we can make the case that this is about our economy, it puts the conversation on a different plane. An investment in treatment and prevention could save $12,000 a year for every individual in the state who drinks excessively. Now, we’re not just pointing out a problem. We’re showing what happens when you choose a solution.
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