What’s The Connection Between Debt And Alcohol?

Debt is something that the majority of Americans have. According to America’s Debt Help Organization, the total U.S. consumer debt is at $13.86 trillion. However, this number includes auto loans, mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt, which are not necessarily bad forms of debt. Taking out a loan to purchase a home or car is often just a part of life, and if payments are made on time then it should not be a cause for concern. It becomes concerning when someone becomes unable to make payments and continues to increase their debt. Unfortunately, this is often seen in people struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder. Debt and alcohol abuse often go hand-in-hand, as the severe and negative consequences of alcoholism take a toll on an individual’s life personally, physically, professionally, and financially.

One study found that college students who used alcohol had more credit card debt than non-alcohol users. 28% of alcohol users had credit card debt over $1,000 and 18.3% of non-alcohol users had debt over $1,000. Using alcohol excessively in college can lead to money management problems when it should be a time to learn how to properly handle finances and prepare for the future. Another study from Internet Scientific Publications found that, “Smoking, drinking, high-risk drinking, less exercise, and poorer mental health were related to having debt.” There are many reasons why debt and alcohol abuse are linked, including alcohol’s effects on mental health, physical health, and spending habits.

Alcohol Abuse And Mental Health

Long term alcohol abuse can lead to a number of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. It can also worsen preexisting mental health problems, especially if someone is trying to self-medicate with alcohol. Studies have found that those with depression have a more difficult time resisting alcohol use and may use alcohol to relieve depressive symptoms. The same can be said for those with anxiety. Using alcohol to relieve anxiety will likely worsen symptoms and can make recovery harder. A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that a history of heavy alcohol use can impair a critical mechanism in the brain for recovering from trauma. This puts people at a higher risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and being unable to work through the event during treatment.

Research has demonstrated that there is a link between financial difficulties and poor mental health. Greater financial problems predict depression, stress, and anxiety, as well as greater alcohol dependence over time. A study published in the Community Mental Health Journal stated that, “Greater financial stress predicted greater anxiety, depression, stress, alcohol dependence and poorer global mental health at baseline.” The connection between financial difficulties, alcohol abuse, and mental health seem to all feed off of each other and worsen each other.

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Alcohol Abuse And Physical Health

Alcohol abuse has a profound effect on the body, especially if long-term alcohol abuse occurs. It effects the liver, causing cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis. It can impact brain functioning, as well as cause issues of the heart like high blood pressure and stroke. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to pancreatitis and is even linked to certain cancers like esophageal and colorectal cancer. In both the long and short term, alcohol has a negative impact on the immune system. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that, “Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.” Even drinking a lot on a single occasion can make someone more likely to get sick. Up to 24 hours after drinking, the body’s ability to ward off infections is slowed.

Physical health, debt, and alcohol use become a connected issue because of absenteeism and presenteeism. Employees missing work because of alcohol and drug related problems, like being hungover, is estimated at 2.5 million days lost annually, at a cost of more than $680 million. An association has been found between heavy episodic drinking and the number of days of absence recorded. Not only does this impact companies, it impacts people on individual levels. Not showing up to work can halt someone’s career progression, taking promotions and raises off the table, and in some cases lead their employment to be terminated.

Even if someone is still showing up to work each day, such as in the case of a high-functioning alcoholic, this can still result in cases of presenteeism. Presenteeism is when an employee is working while sick, resulting in productivity loss. One study found that, “binge drinking was associated with both sickness presenteeism and impaired daily activities.” Presenteeism can have the same effects as absenteeism on the individual and their company. Periods of unemployment can result in procuring debt.

The Costs Of Drinking

Not only are the physical and mental health effects from alcohol linked to procuring debt, so are spending habits that can be influenced by alcohol. Alcohol greatly impacts decision making, leading some to spend more at the bar and on drinks than they would choose to do in a clear mindset. One study found that 46% of Americans who drink have indulged in shopping while drunk. This can be easy to do with the access to online shopping that is available today. In 2017, the annual amount spent by Americans while drunk reached $30.43 billion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, “The cost of excessive alcohol use in the United States reached $249 billion in 2010.” 72% of that total cost is due to losses in workplace productivity, followed by health care expenses at 11%, law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses at 10%, and motor vehicle crashes related to excessive alcohol use at 5%. The link between debt and alcohol is one of the many negative associations that come from alcohol abuse.

Get Help With Debt And Alcohol

If you are struggling with debt because of alcohol use, that may be a sign of a serious alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use that interferes with taking care of family and that causes job or school troubles is one of the criteria that signals an alcohol use disorder. To get your life back on track, reach out to a treatment provider who can discuss your treatment options with you. In some cases, insurance will cover part or all of your treatment so you can get back to a place of health and financial stability.

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