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The Daily Tar Heel

OC Voice: The high costs of excessive drinking

DTH Photo Illustration. Someone holds a can of hard seltzer which contains 5% alcohol.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Elinor Landess is the director of the Campus & Community Coalition in Chapel Hill.

$111 million in one year. 

That’s a conservative estimate of how much excessive drinking cost Orange County in 2017 alone. Hospitalizations, car crashes, crime and incarceration, absenteeism and premature deaths make up much of the costs. 

In addition to the cost burden in Orange County, excessive drinking is also the county’s fourth leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart and lung diseases. 

In collaboration with the Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition, which focuses on mitigating the harms from high-risk drinking, Gillings School of Global Public Health graduate students conducted a study to determine the burden of excessive drinking in Orange County in 2017. 

Using methods established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the team found that most of the costs of excessive drinking are paid by people other than the drinker, with government shouldering almost half (45.6 percent) of the costs, and victims, insurance and others payers covering another 11 percent of the $111 million total. And this data is from before the pandemic, when we know levels of alcohol consumption increased across the board.

The tragedy and the cause for optimism from this study is that these harms are preventable. 

The Campus & Community Coalition is committed to reducing the harms of excessive drinking in and around the University. 

We recently launched several proven strategies designed to create change on this issue. In mid-August, the Chapel Hill Police Department began collecting information from people arrested for driving while impaired about the last place they were served alcohol. The police department will then follow up with the business for an educational visit to encourage adoption of the best practices for serving and selling alcohol. Another national evidence-based practice to reduce excessive drinking is to consistently enforce underage drinking laws.

Many write off excessive alcohol consumption as the problem of a few people — but, just as smoking harms people who don’t smoke, so does drinking. 

The Campus & Community Coalition sees alcohol-related harms as inseparable from other issues troubling our community — sexual assault and mental health, racial equity and social justice, neighborhood well-being and quality of life and downtown prosperity and economic development. It doesn’t have to be this way — we can and must shift the culture to create environments where everyone can flourish. 

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email 

@DTHCityState |