WASHINGTON – Underage drinking costs Americans $62 billion every year in injuries, deaths and lost work time, according to a tally released Thursday. That’s more than three times what the federal government had spent on relief for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by mid-June.
The biggest costs are those associated with alcohol-fueled rapes, murders, assaults and other violent crimes committed by underage people who have been drinking, which add up to $34.7 billion. The second biggest cost was drunken-driving accidents, totaling $13.5 billion. Researchers took into account immediate costs, such as hospital bills, and long-term damage, such as lost work hours and lowered quality of life.
The study, from the nonprofit research group Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation, estimates that every underage drinker costs society an average of $4,680 a year. That’s the $62 billion total divided by the estimated number of drinkers under 21.
After car crashes and violent crime, the next biggest estimated costs of teen drinking were those associated with high-risk sex (nearly $5 billion), property crime ($3 billion) and addiction treatment programs (nearly $2 billion).
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry trade group, said it shares concerns about the findings. “Distillers believe that any amount of underage drinking is too much and creates societal harm,” said council President Peter Cressy.