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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The high harm score of alcohol. Time for drug policy to be revisited?

The aim of this paper is to create awareness of the negative health impact and economic burden and benefits associated to alcohol consumption.

Worldwide about two billion people consume alcohol. Low intake of alcohol has a minor protective cardiovascular effect. On the other hand, even moderate alcohol consumption appears to be weakly, but significantly, associated to a limited number of chronic diseases.

Alcohol causes a considerable economic burden to society due to the high absolute number of alcohol consumers. As such, alcohol abuse is more harmful for public health and society than illicit drug use.

Some 3.7% of alcohol consumers (worldwide 76 million people) have an alcohol use disorder leading to 60–70% of the societal costs related to alcohol. Therefore, policy measures should, in addition to regulatory measures to reduce alcohol use, aim at closing the treatment gap and improving treatment effectiveness of people with an alcohol use disorder.

The key message is that policy-makers unjustifiably focus on the harm of illicit drugs, whereas they underestimate the harm of alcohol use. Policy makers should therefore consider alcohol to be at least as harmful as illicit drugs and invest more in prevention and harm reduction strategies for alcohol abuse and dependence.

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