The Negative Impacts of Alcohol Abuse

by William Skink

Last February, when the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission was examining how to reduce access to cheap alcohol for those with the most frequent contacts with law enforcement, Dan Brooks wrote a cute little piece of snark about Charming the Snake. And though I agree with the subtitle of his piece–a downtown ban on cheap booze avoids the real issue–I wonder if Brooks truly understands the scope of the problem. From the link:

People drinking on the street is a problem, but I’m not sure the problem is drinking. If the city wants to discourage us from getting wasted downtown, it should ensure that more of us have the opportunity to get wasted at home.

To that end, I draw your attention to the other big story in where to drink King Cobra this week: the opening of eight new units in the John Lynn Apartments. Intended for people who have been homeless and suffer from disabilities, the apartments rent for $250 a month and attracted 55 applicants in three days.

Many of those applicants were living in cars or at the Poverello Center. Chances are some of the money they weren’t spending on rent went to tall boys and pint vodka. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 35 percent of people who lived in shelters in 2010 had chronic substance abuse problems.

Maybe those people would stop drinking if they had apartments. Maybe they would just pound tall boys and yell in the comfort of their own homes. Either way, they would not be drunk downtown.

What Brooks is trying cleverly to bring into this conversation is the housing first model, exemplified by the efforts in Salt Lake City. While I appreciate and totally support that approach to homelessness, the issue of alcohol abuse and the resulting carnage it produces is a much bigger issue than how the unsheltered self-medicate with cheap booze.

To drive home this point, here are three headlines posted in just the past 4 hours at the Missoulian:

Man accused of stabbing woman at Missoula Hotel

Mother pleads guilty to endangering kids at Missoula hotel

Missoula man allegedly dragged, kicked, strangled mother of his children

These are three headlines posted in one day in Missoula. And if you sit in Municipal Court watching arraignments (which I do sometimes) you will see crime after crime where alcohol was a significant factor.

The effort to remove certain products that Dan Brooks may or may not consume (you can get berry-flavored Steel Reserve at the Food Farm for 69 cents a can, Dan) quickly failed. Why? Because lots of money is made selling this nasty swill to poor people.

This article from the Missoula Independent last April featured a casino actually willing to share some sales figures that would have been impacted by this voluntary removal of cheap booze:

At first, Becki Hamilton wasn’t sure what to think. A few weeks ago, two members of the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Commission presented Hamilton, manager of the Magic Diamond Casino on West Broadway, with proposals designed to curb problems stemming from alcohol abuse. One idea called for alcohol retailers to voluntarily stop selling certain low-cost beverages with high alcohol content, such as pints of cheap vodka and single cans of malt liquor. The other involved the commission creating a list of people who downtown retailers would all agree to stop selling alcohol to, due to their persistently bad behavior while intoxicated.

The first proposal immediately struck Hamilton as unrealistic.

“I just took the things they listed on the draft [proposal], which was about five items, and over a six-month period it was about $100,000 that we would be missing out in sales,” Hamilton says. “And I explained that a lot of the people who buy the single-serve cans and the smaller portioned beers and vodkas and whiskeys aren’t all bums.”

Clearly the business of profiting from alcohol abuse is doing just fine. Four years ago this July, Forbes ran a piece about the recession-resistent sales of booze:

With the holiday weekend approaching and plans for barbeques and parties on the horizon, you are probably packing your cooler with drinks. With the way sales have been trending, it seems most Americans are.

During the recession, alcohol-related industries were some of the few seeing continued growth, proving alcohol to be a frequent purchase for many Americans. Likewise, over the last 12 months, alcohol manufacturing has grown almost 10 percent, and alcohol retailers and wholesalers have seen growth of over 6%. So is alcohol recession-proof? Not necessarily, but it does seem to be recession-resistant. Despite our uncertain economy, alcohol sales continue to rise. In all four of the alcohol-related industries outlined below- beverage manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and bars- revenue growth is at the highest level it’s been since 2007.

If there’s money to be made, why care about the societal cost? And, as Dan Brooks points out, alcohol can provide a temporary respite from the depressing reality of being poor and/or homeless. So why not?

I wrote a post about alcohol abuse back in January of 2013 at the blog I’m now banned from contributing to, which you can read here. In that post I shared some numbers from a study that put the annual cost of Montana’s alcohol abuse problem at a staggering 642 million dollars. Here’s the breakdown:

Alcohol induced medical care: 100.7 million
Criminal justice system: 49.1 million
Early mortality/lost earnings; disease/vehicle accidents: 296.8 million
Lost productivity: 53.3 million
Treatment costs: 10.7 million

That study was done years ago. Since everything seems to go up (except wages) I can only assume the annual cost to Montana is nearing 3/4 of a billion dollars. That is insane.

Alcohol abuse is a huge problem. I struggle myself with drinking too much too often. My grandpa was an alcoholic and verbally abusive to my grandma. Some of the ugliest moments in my own marriage have come from getting drunk and losing control.

I wish we had better treatment options, better recovery models, but we don’t. Instead we have a stagnant economy teetering on the edge of another collapse with the resultant desire to temporarily escape this harsh reality with booze.

And so it goes.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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18 Responses to The Negative Impacts of Alcohol Abuse

  1. Steve W says:

    Maybe we need a local annual fee on booze purveyors to pay for a detox and other booze related mitigation services.

    • Rob Kailey says:

      Yes, and a tax on Zimmerino’s to pay for the cultural costs of obesity …

      Segmenting costs based on blame to solve broad societal issues is the heart of Republithink.

      • what’s your solution?

        • steve kelly says:

          It is not easy to ignore the fool who comes only to raze. Be clear, however, ghost stalkers from LitW and 4 & 20 do not visit to chat constructively or build anything.

        • Rob Kailey says:

          Wise words, Steve. Wrong, as usual, but nevertheless somehow wise. Consider that given my next comment …

        • Rob Kailey says:

          “My” solution is the same one I’ve advocated for years, and Kelly points to below. It is the addictive behavior that’s the problem, not the substance used (gambling, alcohol, debt, drugs …). Taxing those who supply a desired item to pay for the societal ills of those who misuse it resulting in societal harm is misguided and has backfired in almost every case.

          We need to treat mental health care as a topic just as fundamental to well being of individual and society as we do dentistry. The more we look, the more we find that addiction itself, and violent behavior as a result of certain chemical reactions with substances, are driven by certain genetic alleles. The non-addicted can be violent when drunk, the addicted can be passive (if offensive to polite society) when absolutely schnockered. These are medical issues, not moral. It is strongly arguable at this point that they are genetic issues, just like being left-handed or gay. You don’t tax Macy’s for selling make-up to solve the problems caused by a pride parade; why tax Worden’s Market for selling cheap beer? That makes no sense to me. And just for the record, it’s a total political loser.

          (Since many good progressives seem to have missed this part of my writing, yes, I do believe that economic disparity creates a psychological condition, a medical condition which exacerbates the problems and harms to society. If ‘Society’ wants to ‘solve’ these harms, then all of us need to pony up and pay, especially those who have the most to give. Oh, and, Go Bernie Sanders!)

        • so specific tax, bad, but we all have to pay. ok then.

        • and it’s funny you bring up Wordens, because the owner would prefer to toss homeless alcoholics in jail, and who pays for the $100 bucks a night to jail them?

        • Craig Moore says:

          Rob. your insight on addictive behaviour is spot on.

        • Rob Kailey says:

          Yup, Lizard, one bad apple spoils the whole barrel, don’t it?

        • steve kelly says:


          Please accept my most humble apology.

  2. steve kelly says:

    The source: addiction. The cure: deal with addiction, not so much the choice of the addict. Again, Dr. Gabor Mate does an excellent job with this.

  3. Steve W says:

    There is no such thing as Republithink or Demcrathink, Rob. I know you suffer those illusions. Truly there is only think or don’t think. What’s it gonna be?

    Are you opposed to building inspection fees? Are you opposed to hunting and fishing license fees? How about restaurant health and safety inspection fees? Should we abolish them and have someone who never eats out ever paying taxes to cover Zimmerinos’ operating expenses?

    By charging the booze producers, wholesalers and the retailers a fee to mitigate some of the damage their livelihood creates for the greater community, you aren’t punishing addicts. You aren’t punishing anyone. you are mitigating a problem generated by an industry.

    You are providing a sustained source of mitigation funding for both the addicted and nonaddicted community. Some booze addicts are wealthy, many are destitute, but when they melt down, we have no safe secure and appropriate place to detox.

    i drink. I wouldn’t feel the least bit punished if the producer, the wholesaler and the retailer marked up their product a bit to cover the social costs of alcohol use and abuse.

    I don’t believe asking an industry to pay to clean up it’s own self created problems is stupid or wrong headed. I think it’s fair, proper, just and long over due.

    Your solution is politically much harder to initiate and sustain. You don’t knock on doors and you don’t organize, all you ever really do politically is flap your mouth and cast a ballot, presumably.

    So I’d prefer the easier and more sustainable route to a county detox facility.

    Not only that, I’m tired of all the corporate welfare that lets the profiteers off the hook for the long term societal costs of their big money industry.

    The fact that severe addiction has it’s roots in the early childhood traumas of the addict has no bearing one way or the other on the need to have a safe secure detox facility.

    Also, your distress at upping the cost of drug of choice isn’t born out by the data.

    Cheaper drug equals greater consumption and higher addiction rates. We see this clearly in the data on cigarettes, for instance.

    We shouldn’t tax the state population to pay for HR Grace in Libby the corporate owners should pay.

    So mitigating some of the alcohol problem through mitigation fees on the booze industry looks like a winner to me.

    Go Bernie, indeed!

    • Big Swede says:

      Bernie? Draft Joe!

      “The Draft Biden 2016 group has reportedly gathered nearly 100,000 signatures in support of a Biden candidacy and the group’s executive director, William Pierce, told RealClearPolitics that the Journal report was “great” and that, “we’re excited to see more and more people closer to the vice president urging him to run.””

      • Steve W says:

        It was apparently Joe’s late son, Hunters last wish that his father, Joe, might run again for the presidency. That according to an article on a possible Biden run in the NYT recently. Sounds a little to convenient to me, but with Hunter passed on there’s no one to dispute this warm fuzzy feel good story.

        Up side for Bernie? Joe and Hill would split some of the same voters; Both are Obama administration officials and both are war mongers and drug warriors.

        Down side? Joe could lead a smear demonization campaign against Bernie and Hill could sit back innocently claiming it isn’t her fault.

        • JC says:

          I think you mean Beau Biden. Hunter is still alive and well and contributing to the chaos in Ukraine and eastern europe.

  4. Steve W says:

    Thanks JC. Yes I believe you are correct.

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