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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia


It is well documented that alcohol-related problems compromise individual and social health, and wellbeing (Homel, McIlwain & Carvolth 2004). However, much of the burden of such problems is initially born by first response and public emergency services including police, ambulance and hospital emergency departments (Collins & Lapsley 2002). The individual harms are numerous, including premature death, loss of enjoyment and loss of social utility through fear of crime and victimisation (ADCA 2000). Further, alcohol misuse is a problem for business that suffers due to lost worker productivity and absenteeism (Collins & Lapsley 2002). The misuse of alcohol, particularly among those most at risk in our community, presents a major challenge for all levels of government. How to effectively and efficiently moderate the high costs associated with risky drinking behaviour (eg binge drinking or drinking in high-risk areas such as entertainment districts) by young people has been a recent focus of policymakers. Not all alcohol use represents misuse; rather, misuse comprises use that is above the recommended limits in particular contexts (such as driving or use of equipment), use at levels that leads to health-related problems and use that has reached the level where dependency exists (NHS UK 2013).
Results from a national-level study on the societal costs of alcohol-related problems in Australia are presented. These costs are based on 2010 data supplied from various agencies (eg Australian policing services, Australian Bureau of Statistics) and empirical evidence from peer-reviewed published papers. Incident data, together with estimates of rate of occurrence (eg percentage of all incidents attended by police that were found to be alcohol related) from empirical studies and cost estimates from past literature are used to generate a total cost estimate. All costs are adjusted where necessary to reflect present value in 2010 Australian dollars. The results include costs to the criminal justice system, costs to the health system, costs resulting from lost productivity and costs related to alcohol-related road accidents. They do not include self-reported assessments of costs (cf Laslett et al. 2010) but rather verifiable costs from objective sources. As such, the costs reported here can be regarded as conservative.

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