What are the Economic Costs to Society Attributable to Alcohol Use? A Systematic Review and Modelling Study

Pharmacoeconomics. 2021 Jul;39(7):809-822. doi: 10.1007/s40273-021-01031-8. Epub 2021 May 10.


Background: Alcohol-attributable costs to society are captured by cost-of-illness studies, however estimates are often not comparable, e.g. due to the omission of relevant cost components. In this contribution we (1) summarize the societal costs attributable to alcohol use, and (2) estimate the total costs under the assumption that all cost components are considered.

Methods: A systematic review and meta-analyses were conducted for studies reporting costs from alcohol consumption for the years 2000 and later, using the EMBASE and MEDLINE databases. Cost estimates were converted into 2019 international dollars (Int$) per adult and into percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). For each study, weights were calculated to correct for the exclusion of cost indicators.

Results: Of 1708 studies identified, 29 were included, and the mean costs of alcohol use amounted to 817.6 Int$ per adult (95% confidence interval [CI] 601.8-1033.4), equivalent to 1.5% of the GDP (95% CI 1.2-1.7%). Adjusting for omission of cost components, the economic costs of alcohol consumption were estimated to amount to 1306 Int$ per adult (95% CI 873-1738), or 2.6% (95% CI 2.0-3.1%) of the GDP. About one-third of costs (38.8%) were incurred through direct costs, while the majority of costs were due to losses in productivity (61.2%).

Discussion: The identified cost studies were mainly conducted in high-income settings, with high heterogeneity in the employed methodology. Accounting for some methodological variations, our findings demonstrate that alcohol use continues to incur a high level of cost to many societies.

Registration: PROSPERO #CRD42020139594.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans