Today's Editorial

16 December 2017

Society pays price of alcoholism


Source: By Bharat Dogra: The Statesman


Apart from its widely known serious health impacts, there are very heavy social costs of alcohol consumption in the form of various forms of violencecrime and disruption of relationships. Some efforts have been made to put a money value on these costs. While some scholars have argued that it is not easy to calculate a cash value of intangibles like distress suffered by breakdown of relationships caused by alcohol, others have said that at least some effort can be made to estimate such intangible costs.


The WHO status report on alcohol and health (2014) presented various estimates that have been made from time to time about financial implications of these social aspects.


1) Estimate for the European Union, Year 2003 – 125 billion euros


2) Estimate for UK, Year 2009 – 21 billion pounds


3) Estimate for USA, Year 2006 – 233 billion dollars


4) Estimate for South Africa, Year 2009 – 300 billion Rand (10-12 per cent of GNP)


While this data about financial implications of social costs is disturbing, at the same time it needs to be emphasised that violence leading to loss of life and disruption of close relationships caused by alcohol can never be fully calculated in money terms. Nevertheless, it is important to learn from the South African estimate that when intangible costs of human suffering are included, the loss could be as much as 10 per cent or more of GNP.


Most research is concerned with the impact of alcohol consumption on the actual consumer, but more recently there has been a welcome trend to look at the impact on others. The most discussed study of this kind was conducted in Australia. It has been mentioned as a significant study by the WHO which is trying to take this further. This study supported by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education found the following impacts in one year in Australia.


(1) 367 people were killed


(2) 13,660 people were hospitalised


(3) Special care had to be arranged for 19,443 children


(4) 25,481 family members were attacked


(5) 44,852 strangers were attacked


(6) 73 per cent persons were affected in some way or the other to a lesser or greater extent


Increased consumption of alcohol has been frequently linked to higher rates of crime and violence. Not surprisingly the World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH Report) says that reducing the availability of liquor can be an important community strategy to reduce crime and violence as research has shown alcohol to be an important situational factor that can precipitate violence. In a four-year study conducted in New Zealand crime rates in situations of high and low availability of alcohol were compared. This study revealed that crime rates fell significantly for 2 years in areas of reduced alcohol availability.


According to a report prepared by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, USA (NCADD), alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80 per cent of offences leading to incarceration in the USA such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offences, drug offences and public order offences. Alcohol is a factor in 40 per cent of all violent crimes and according to the department of justice, 37 per cent of about 2 million convicted offenders currently in jail report that they were drinking at the time of the event.


NCADD studies tell us that alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes including murder, rape, assault, child and spousal abuse. About 3 million violent crimes occurred each year in the USA in which victims perceived the offenders to have been drinking. Statistics related to alcohol use by violent offenders show that about half of homicides and assaults are committed when the offender, victim or both were drinking.


This report by NCADD points out that alcohol is often a factor in violence where the attacker and the victim know each other. Two-thirds of victims who were attacked by an intimate (including a current or formal spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend) reported that alcohol was involved. More than 1 million are arrested for driving while intoxicated in a year in the USA. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the number one cause of death, injury and disability of young people under the age of 21.

According to the WHO, alcohol consumption in adolescents, particularly binge drinking, negatively affects school performance and increases participation in crime and leads to risky sexual behavior. The WRVH also says in the context of youth violence that drunkenness is an important immediate situational factor that can precipitate violence. In a Swedish study on youth-violence, about three quarters of violent offenders and around half the victims of violence were intoxicated at the time of the incident. Hence, we need to look at the wider social aspects of alcohol consumption and not just individual health aspects.


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