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Keywords:

  • alcohol;
  • economic burden;
  • social cost

Abstract

Economic arguments for acting for health are increasingly important for policymakers, yet to date there has been no consideration of the likely economic burden of alcohol on the global level. A review of existing cost estimates was conducted, with each study disaggregated into different cost areas and the methodology of each element evaluated. The range of figures produced from more robust studies was then applied tentatively on the global level. The reviewed studies suggested a range of estimates of 1.3-3.3% of total health costs, 6.4–14.4% of total public order and safety costs, 0.3-1.4% of GDP for criminal damage costs, 1.0–1.7% of GDP for drink-driving costs, and 2.7–10.9% of GDP for work-place costs (absenteeism, unemployment and premature mortality). On a global level, this suggests costs in the range of $210–665 billion in 2002. These figures cannot be understood without considering simultaneously six key problems: (i) the methods used by each study; (ii) who pays these costs; (iii) the ‘economic benefits’ of premature deaths; (iv) establishing causality; (v) omitted costs; and (vi) the applicability of developed country estimates to developing countries. Alcohol exerts a considerable economic burden worldwide, although the exact level of this burden is a matter of debate and further research. Policymakers should consider economic issues alongside evidence of the cost-effectiveness of particular policy options in improving health, such as in the WHO's CHOICE project.