Press Release

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Sue Ducat
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Estimated Toll of Campus Drinking To a University:
$469,000--$546,000 in Emergency Costs


Bethesda, MD--According to four Harvard School of Public Health national surveys, 44 percent of all college students binge drink, and nearly 600,000 suffered injuries in 2001, many of them associated with alcohol-induced blackouts. A new study, released today as a Web First by Health Affairs calculates that at a university with 40,000 or more students, blackout-associated emergency department visit costs range from $469,000 to $546,000 per year. This study is the first to assess emergency department costs associated with college students' alcohol-related blackouts.

Prevention Aimed At College Students Who Have Had Alcohol-Fueled Blackouts Could Deter High-Cost Emergency Department Visits
By Marlon P. Mundt and Larissa I. Zakletskaia

Both authors are affiliated with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. This work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The study will also appear in the April issue of Health Affairs.


The data were collected from a College Health Intervention Projects study, conducted from October 2004 to February 2009 at one Canadian and four US universities. A total of 954 high-risk drinkers (based on self-reported alcohol consumption) were interviewed and recontacted six, twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four months later. The sample was almost evenly divided between males (49 percent) and females (51 percent), and 44 percent of the sample were students ages 18--20. The male subjects consumed an average of 81.8 drinks in the past twenty-eight days, compared to 58.7 drinks by women. Fifty-two percent of males and 50 percent of females at the start of the study had experienced an alcohol-induced blackout in the past year. Thirty percent of the male and 27 percent of the female respondents reported visiting an emergency department at least once during the twenty-four months they were followed by the study, with severities ranging from broken bones to head and brain injuries.

Frequent blackout sufferers (six or more in the prior year) were 70 percent more likely to be treated at the emergency department than students who consumed the same amount of alcohol but did not experience blackouts. Using the 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to calculate average payments for emergency department visits for 18 to 44 year olds, the authors found that these visits for alcohol blackout sufferers would total between $469,000 and $546,000 per university, depending on its regional location. "College alcohol abusers susceptible to blackouts put a heavy burden on the medical care system," concluded the authors. "Given limited campus resources, the study results support targeting efforts at preventing alcohol-related injury at students with a history of blackouts....In our cost estimate, close to a half-million dollars could be saved in emergency department utilization costs on a large university campus each year if interventions targeting blackout sufferers were successful."



About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically and health policy briefs published twice monthly at Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download weekly Narrative Matters podcasts on iTunes.