Holiday season hangovers cost €155.8 billion a year in Europe


EU adults consume 12.5 litres of pure alcohol per year, according to the World Health Organisation. [Kaktuslampan/Flickr]

Employee hangovers related to the holiday season are expensive for EU businesses and societies as a whole. According to a review of the academic literature done by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on behalf of the Commission, alcohol?attributable social costs are estimated at up to €155.8 billion a year in Europe.

CAMH said that there are many social and economic burdens resulting from the effects of alcohol on individuals, families, workplaces, and society, and that these effects add up to a staggering number of alcohol?attributable social costs.

An average adult (aged 15+ years) in the EU consumes 12.5 litres of pure alcohol each year, or nearly three drinks a day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in a 2012-report. This is more than double the world average. 

According to the BBC, UK researchers have estimated that holiday-season hangovers cost businesses almost £260 million (€331.7 million) a year. A survey of 1,500 people, conducted for the travel website, concluded that around 25% of employees work for fewer than four hours the day after an office Christmas party, while another 20% of workers will call in sick.

Currently, there is no effective hangover cure available, according Joris Verster, a professor at Utrecht University’s Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences who has published numerous scientific papers exploring possible hangover cure. She told the BBC that the only way to prevent hangovers “is to consume alcohol in moderation.”

The EU has tried to reduce alcohol-related harm in Europe by publishing a strategy in 2006 to help national governments, and other stakeholders, coordinate their action. However, the alcohol strategy was not updated in 2013, as originally intended. The new European, Commission, which took office on 1 November 2014, has so far not indicated that a new strategy is being implemented. 

A statement from The Brewers of Europe – the federation of the beer industry – said that beer should be consumed responsibly and in moderation, “On the other hand alcohol abuse must be tackled, hence the leading role played by brewers in the EU alcohol and health forum.”

In Scotland, the government is trying to limit the country’s alcohol consumption by introducing a minimum price per unit alcohol (MUP), but this legislation has faced obstacles.

UK and EU trade laws allow in principle for the setting of a minimum price for the retail sale of alcohol for public health purposes by a government or public authority. The Scottish legislation was passed without opposition in May 2012. The MUP was set at 50p per unit, and the legislation should have been implemented in April 2013.

However, it was delayed by a legal challenge by trade bodies representing international alcohol producers – the Scottish Whiskey Association (SWA), the European Spirits Association (SPIRITSEurope) and Comité Européen des Enterprises Vins (CEEV) who claim that the law obstructs the EU’s single market. The Scottish government is expecting a verdict in 2015. 


SpiritsEUROPE, the European Spirits Association, commented:

"According to the last available Eurobarometre study, more than 85% of European enjoy our products responsibly and binge drinking that could lead to hangovers varies significantly across Europe and tends to decrease. However, the fight is not over and this is why spirits producers are engaged in prevention programmes to help reduce alcohol-related harm; some of them being information campaigns promoting practical tips to avoid excess."

“Whilst excessive drinking may contribute to a variety of health and social harms and represent a cost for society, one should also not neglect beer's positive contribution to society. Beer also contributes over 50 billion euros each year in added value to the EU economy, generates over 50 billion euros in tax revenues for governments and creates 2 million jobs,” according to a statement by The Brewers of Europe.

The EU’s Alcohol Strategy, launched in 2006, is designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their action to reduce alcohol-related harm in the EU.

However, the strategy does not impose specific legislation on member states at this stage, relying instead on policy coordination and exchanges of best practices between countries. To do this, the strategy introduced an alcohol and health forum, launched in 2007, where member organisations - public and private - are invited to debate, compare approaches and take action to tackle alcohol-related harm.

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption has a major impact on public health and also generates costs related to healthcare, health insurance, law enforcement and public order, and workplaces.

Harmful alcohol consumption also has a negative impact on labour and productivity. Therefore, the EU wants to foster workplace-based initiatives. Stakeholders such as business organisations and trade unions have a particular responsibility in this regard.

  • 2015: Possibility of the Minimum Unit Price on alcohol (MUP) in Scotland entering into force.

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