Tobacco, alcohol a bigger threat to human health than illegal drugs

Study finds smoking alcohol are biggest threat to human welfare

The authors sourced their information mainly through records held by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Estimating the prevalence of use and associated burden of disease and mortality at the country, regional, and global level is critical in quantifying the extent and severity of the burden arising from substance use."

The researchers were not able to get an accurate estimate of drug, alcohol or tobacco use in regions like Latin America or Africa because of the lack of data on drug use and health burdens.

Around 843.2 people per 100,000 are alcohol dependent compared to 259.3 cannabis addicts, 220.4 opioid users, 86 amphetamines dependents and 52.5 people who are hooked on cocaine.

Results further suggest almost one in five adults worldwide drink heavily at least once a month, while 15 per cent smoke tobacco every day.

The study, despite its limitations, emphasizes the risks of alcohol and tobacco use which present the biggest threat to health and wellbeing worldwide.

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The authors of the report note that Australasia came up as the region with "the highest prevalence of amphetamine dependence", amounting to 491.5 per 100,000 people.

North America had among the highest rates of cannabis, opioid and cocaine dependence, at 748, 650 and 301 individuals per 100,000 people, according to the results. When looking at the impact of illicit drug use, the findings revealed the figure to be the lowest of the three, at 27.8 million DALYs. Over the prior year pot, amphetamine, opioid, and cocaine use came in at 4% of the adult population, with majority way under. Second in line comes alcohol consumption, to which 95 million disability-adjusted life-years are attributed.

Some of the highest levels of alcohol consumption were in Central, Eastern and Western Europe, where the per-capita consumption was 11 to 12 liters (about 3 gallons) of pure alcohol a year, compared with about 6 liters (1.5 gallons) a year per capita worldwide. The same regions also reported higher percentage of consumption of alcohol amongst drinkers.

The team notes there are key limitations to the data, particularly for illicit drugs, but believe that assembling this information in one place will help governments and worldwide agencies form policies to combat substance use.

"Better standardized and rigorous methods for data collection, collation and reporting are needed to assess more accurately" the disease burden from substance use worldwide", the researchers said.

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