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Vol. 9, No. 4, 2003
Issue release date: October 2003
Eur Addict Res 2003;9:165–175

Drinking and Its Burden in a Global Perspective: Policy Considerations and Options

Room R. · Graham K. · Rehm J. · Jernigan D. · Monteiro M.
aCentre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; bCentre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ont., Canada; cUniversity of Western Ontario, London, Ont., Canada; dAddiction Research Institute, Zürich, Switzerland; eCentre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ont., Canada; fUniversity of Toronto, Toronto, Ont., Canada; gHealth Policy Institute, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA; hManagement of Substance Dependence, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland

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Aims: To identify the policy implications of the magnitude and characteristics of alcohol consumption and problems, viewed globally, and to summarize conclusions on the effectiveness of the strategies available to policymakers concerned with reducing rates of alcohol problems. Design/Methods/Setting: This summative article draws on the findings of the articles preceding it and of reviews of the literature. Findings and Conclusions: Overall volume of consumption is the major factor in the prevalence of harms from drinking. Since consumption and associated problems tend to increase with economic development, policymakers in developing economies should be especially aware of the need to develop policies to minimize overall increases in alcohol consumption. Unrecorded consumption is also an important consideration for policy in many parts of the world, and poses difficulties for alcohol control policies. Drinking pattern is also an important contributing factor toward alcohol-related harm. Although some drinking patterns have been shown to produce beneficial health effects, because the net effect of alcohol on coronary disease is negative in most parts of the world, policies that promote abstinence or lower drinking overall may be the safest options. Moreover, sporadic intoxication is common in many parts of the world, and policies are unlikely to change this drinking pattern at least in the short to medium term. At the same time, because injuries comprise a large proportion of the burden of alcohol, it is appropriate to enhance these policies with targeted harm reduction strategies such as drinking and driving countermeasures and interventions focused on reducing alcohol-related violence in specific high-risk settings. Alcohol consumption is a major factor for the global burden of disease and should be considered a public health priority globally, regionally, and nationally for the vast majority of countries in the world. The need for alcohol policy is even stronger when it is taken into consideration that the burden of alcohol estimated in the WHO Global Burden of Disease project includes primarily health problems related to drinking. From the limited evidence available, however, social problems related to drinking seem to impose at least as much burden. Moreover, the burden for both social and health harms fall not only on the drinker, but also on others. There is a broad literature on policy interventions to reduce alcohol problems. Effective strategies include controls over distribution and sale, taxation, drinking-driving countermeasures, brief interventions by health workers or counselors, and selected harm reduction measures. There is a need to develop the growing literature on comparative evaluations of cost-effectiveness of such strategies. In addition, international agreements are needed to support the effectiveness of national strategies.

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