A federal study finds the cost of alcohol abuse through binge drinking in Iowa totals nearly two-billion-dollars a year. The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that figure incorporates costs from health care, the justice system and lost work productivity.

Julie Hibben, a project director in the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse, says the impact of binge drinking on health care alone is enormous. “Binge drinking causes short-term health consequences like unintentional injuries, car crashes, alcohol poisoning,” Hibben says. “Also, there’s some long-term health consequences, for instance, liver damage, neurological damage, things like that.”

So what constitutes a drinking binge? “One definition that we lean on is four drinks at a time for a woman and five for a man and it’s within a period of time or a setting,” Hibben says. The CDC report found 23-percent of Iowans reported at least one drinking binge in the previous month. That ranks Iowa among the top five states in the U.S. with the highest rates of binge drinking.

With the holidays approaching, in addition to plenty of holiday parties, Hibben says the risks of binge drinking may rise. “Sometimes, alcohol is part of our celebrations for sure and we believe that people can definitely enjoy alcohol responsibly,” Hibben says. “The problem comes when people are drinking in excess.”

The state health department is working with a grant program to address binge drinking among adults and underage drinkers in 23 counties. “Those counties are utilizing a variety of strategies, things like setting up training systems for retailers who sell alcohol or serve alcohol, making policy changes around alcohol,” Hibben says. “All of those different types of strategies can reduce binge drinking among adults in our state.”

The goal of the program, she says, is to shift societal norms. Nationally, the cost of excessive alcohol consumption is estimated at more than $200-billion.  An official with the CDC calls it a major public health issue, with costs at the state level that are of the same order of magnitude as the cost of smoking, and in many states, the same as the cost of Medicaid.