Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 4th 2015 Contents B26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, June 4, 2015
We’ve always known that people around the world
smoke, drink and use illegal drugs. But we’ve never
known just how much people abuse substances, nor
have we known whether illegal or legal drugs do
more harm to human health—until now.
For the first time, researchers have combed through
data to report on evidence of the life-and-death con-
sequences of addictive drug use worldwide, and pub-
lished their findings in the June edition of the journal
Addiction. The researchers collected data on how
many people use alcohol, tobacco and drugs, how
often they use it and the harm it does. Their sources
were the World Health Organization, the United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime and other online sources
of global, national and regional information.
Then they sorted the information based on region
and economic status.
The authors acknowledged that the websites they
used can only report the data provided by UN member
states, but “we thought it would be extremely useful,
and a good start, to have it all in one place,” says lead
author Dr Linda Gowing, a professor at the University
of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences.
Some findings were predictable: lots of alcohol is
consumed in Russia, very little in Muslim countries.
But the overall importance is in the establishment of
a baseline of drug and alcohol use along with com-
parisons among different regions.
Worldwide, some five per cent of the world’s pop-
ulation—about 240 million people—are dependent on
alcohol. The accepted mental health definitions of
dependence speaks of compulsive use, loss of control
over substance use and a failure to stop using even
when people are aware of the problems alcohol is
causing. More than a billion people, or 20 per cent
of the human race, smoke tobacco.
Statistics on the use of illegal drugs are more difficult
to gather, says Gowing. But from the limited estimates
available, some 15 million people around the world
use injection drugs, such as heroin. The report’s authors
noted that the data on illegal drug use, drawn from
the UN’s World Drug Report and the Global Burden
of Disease study, is sparse precisely because its use
It’s undeniable that both tobacco and alcohol increase
the risk of early death. But the overuse of alcohol, the
report found, takes a greater toll in what public health
officials refer to as productive years of life lost than
does tobacco. That means that, in addition to dying
younger, people who are dependent on alcohol have
poor health over a long period of time. They develop
an inability to work and to tend to relationships, and
they experience an overall reduction in their quality
of life, Gowing says.
It’s the first time that addiction statistics have been
gathered and reported in one place, making it a valuable
starting point while showing the need to gather more
information on addictive behaviour.
Regional differences can be stark. Eastern Europeans
are both the heaviest smokers and drinkers in the
world. Asians drink the least. Countries that are pre-
dominantly Muslim have a much lower rate of alcohol
consumption. Alcohol consumption is also lower in
the least developed countries.
Gender differences within countries also matter. In
Saudi Arabia, 38 per cent of men smoke compared
to just .5 per cent of women. In Sierra Leone, 48 per
cent of men smoke and 20 per cent of women. And
in Vietnam, 46 per cent of men smoke, but only 2
per cent of women smoke.
While drinking and smoking is “predominantly a
male behaviour” in some countries, says Gowing,
that’s not the case in the West: “What comes with
women’s liberation is the right to keep up with males,
and that applies to addiction as well.” In the United
Kingdom, for example, men and women are even
when it comes to smoking: 22 per cent.
Having worldwide addiction information available
in one place highlights the need for countries to gather
Who’s addicted to what?
The first worldwide guide
and report more complete information. And it could
be the first step in helping individual countries do
something about it.
“You can begin to gauge what’s happening, what’s
working and what isn’t working,” she says. “These
are, after all, solvable problems.” (NPR)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
Worldwide, some five per cent of the world’s population—about 240 million
people—are dependent on alcohol. More than a billion people, or 20 per cent of
the human race, smoke tobacco.
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