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Monday, August 8, 2011

Commentary on Laslett et al. (2011): Alcohol-related collateral damage and the broader issue of alcohol's social costs

In their paper, Laslett et al. [1] have done a service not just
to the research community, but to the millions of people who are affected by alcohol production, distribution and consumption every day in every corner of the world. In brief, the authors have provided a national-level assessment of how the drinking of individuals can affect the social fabric of a society. The impact is widespread and significant in terms of psychological, physical, social and economic costs. Negative effects from others’ drinking were reported by over 70% of Australians in the past year, with 51% experiencing serious adverse effects. Although Australia may not be representative of countries with lower levels of per capita income and alcohol consumption, the article raises some fascinating questions about the ways in which alcohol-related problems are defined, conceptualized, measured, and controlled. For example, what other legally available consumer product (tobacco, automobiles, gambling, etc.) has a comparable negative impact on the majority of the population of an advanced industrialized country? How effective are our current scientific methods in estimating and explaining the collective harm attributable to alcohol? Can we improve our terminology and conceptual models to better communicate the damage attributable to alcohol? To what extent can our current alcohol control policies be improved by taking these findings into account?
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