Economic burden associated with alcohol dependence in a German primary care sample: a bottom-up study

BMC Public Health. 2016 Aug 31;16(1):906. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3578-8.


Background: A considerable economic burden has been repeatedly associated with alcohol dependence (AD) - mostly calculated using aggregate data and alcohol-attributable fractions (top-down approach). However, this approach is limited by a number of assumptions, which are hard to test. Thus, cost estimates should ideally be validated with studies using individual data to estimate the same costs (bottom-up approach). However, bottom-up studies on the economic burden associated with AD are lacking. Our study aimed to fill this gap using the bottom-up approach to examine costs for AD, and also stratified the results by the following subgroups: sex, age, diagnostic approach and severity of AD, as relevant variations could be expected by these factors.

Sample: 1356 primary health care patients, representative for two German regions. AD was diagnosed by a standardized instrument and treating physicians. Individual costs were calculated by combining resource use and productivity data representing a period of six months prior to the time of interview, with unit costs derived from the literature or official statistics. The economic burden associated with AD was determined via excess costs by comparing utilization of various health care resources and impaired productivity between people with and without AD, controlling for relevant confounders. Additional analyses for several AD characteristics were performed.

Results: Mean costs among alcohol dependent patients were 50 % higher compared to the remaining patients, resulting in 1836 € excess costs per alcohol dependent patient in 6 months. More than half of these excess costs incurred through increased productivity loss among alcohol dependent patients. Treatment for alcohol problems represents only 6 % of these costs. The economic burden associated with AD incurred mainly among males and among 30 to 49 year old patients. Both diagnostic approaches were significantly related to the economic burden, while costs increased with alcohol use disorder severity but not with other AD severity indicators.

Conclusions: Our study confirms previous studies using top-down approaches to estimate the economic burden associated with AD. Further, we highlight the need for efforts aimed at preventing adverse outcomes for health and occupational situation associated with alcohol dependence based on factors associated with particularly high economic burden.

Keywords: Alcohol dependence; Cost of illness; Costs; Economic burden; Germany; Primary care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / economics*
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.2069585