The $67 billion cost of one of our favourite drugs

February 2022

The cost of alcohol consumption to the Australian community has been estimated at $66.8 billion a year, according to recently released research published by NDRI.

Examining the Social and Economic Costs of Alcohol Use in Australia: 2017/18 is the first national update in a decade of the costs of alcohol use. Using up-to-date methods of calculating costs and including a number of previously uncounted conditions and costs, the $66.8 billion annual figures is substantially higher than the 2010 estimate of $14.4 billion.

The research behind the updated national estimate was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, and found that in the 2017-2018 financial year:

  • alcohol was responsible for $18.2 billion in tangible costs including from: ill health; health service costs such as emergency department and hospital admissions; worker absence and occupational injuries; crime; road traffic crashes; and, alcohol purchases by those dependent on alcohol (but not by other alcohol consumers);
  • alcohol was responsible for another $48.6 billion in intangible costs, which is the value of items that can’t be bought or sold, such as years of life lost from premature death, lost quality of life from living with alcohol dependence or from child abuse, and, impacts on victims of alcohol-caused crime.

The main estimate does include some reference to ‘protective’ effects from alcohol, consistent with the evidence. A conservative estimate was made in our calculation of costs, as further harms where a reliable cost could not be estimated were excluded.

The lack of prevalence data meant costs associated with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (estimated at $16 billion) were not included in the overall total. There were several other critical areas where, due to limited data, reliable cost estimates were difficult to determine including: lost quality of life from living with someone with alcohol dependence; and, reduced workplace productivity (‘presenteeism’).

Led by NDRI, the national research team also included experts from the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies at the University of Adelaide, and the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University, South Australia.

The estimate is the final report in the Social and Economic Costs of Substance Use research program, which also estimated the costs associated with methamphetamine, cannabis, opioid and tobacco use in Australia.

To read more, download the reports here or this edition’s Research Focus article