Alcohol and tobacco pose a bigger threat to global health than illicit drugs, according to a new international study. Researchers found that smoking and drinking cost the world a quarter of a billion years of healthy human life in 2015 – ten times more than healthy years lost to illicit drug use.
The Global Statistics on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drug Use: 2017 Status Report was conducted by the Society for the Study of Addiction and published in the journal Addiction on Friday.
The study measured each substance’s impact in “disability adjusted life years,” also known as DALYs, or lost years of healthy life. DALYs take into consideration years lived with various diseases and conditions, including cancers and cardiovascular disease, as well as premature death due to overdose or other complications.
Globally, more than one in seven adults use tobacco, while one in five adults report engaging in at least one episode of heavy drinking in the past month, the data showed.
Europe recorded higher alcohol consumption per capita than any other region, and nearly half of alcohol-consuming European adults are considered heavy drinkers. The figures are the highest in Eastern Europe, followed by Central Europe and Western Europe. Each year, Eastern, Central and Western Europeans consume a respective 11.98 litres, 11.61 litres and 11.09 litres of pure alcohol per person over 15 years old. Comparatively, the global average is 6.42 litres.
Europe also has a higher percentage of smokers than other areas. According to the findings, around one in four adults in Europe smoke tobacco. Compared to 15.2% of adults worldwide, 24.2% of adults in Eastern Europe smoke tobacco, 23.7% in Central Europe and 20.9% in Western Europe.
“We think of ourselves as bastions of civilisation, but on this particular area we’re doing worse than the developing world,” study author Professor Robert West, from University College London, told The Independent.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call, for me anyway, let’s stop congratulating ourselves that we’ve got smoking prevalence in Britain down to around 16% – that’s only down to the global average.”
Illicit drug use was found to be significantly less common across the globe than alcohol and tobacco use. In Europe, only one in 20 adults uses marijuana, with even fewer adults using other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, opioids and amphetamines.
The US and Canada have some of the highest rates of marijuana, opioid and cocaine dependence, while Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of amphetamine dependence.
The study used data from the World Health Organisation, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Although the authors noted the data has some limitations, particularly regarding illicit drugs, they hope their work will help international agencies and governments develop policies to effectively fight substance use.