A Billion Smokers, 240 Million Alcohol Abusers
Global tally finds adult health toll from legal substances may exceed that from illicit drugs
By Randy Dotinga
May 19, 2015
Tobacco and alcohol take a big toll on the health of people around the world, a new global survey shows.
The research suggests that about a billion people — more than 20 percent of the world’s adult population — smoke, and 240 million, or almost 5 percent, suffer from alcoholism or a related disorder.
The study, led by Linda Gowing, an associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, reveals a much larger negative impact from alcohol use than from illegal drugs. In fact, the report estimates that alcohol’s impact in terms of disability is more than three times higher.
“The most striking thing to emerge is how much more damage is done to society by legal drugs than illegal ones,” study co-author Robert West, editor-in-chief of the journal Addiction, said in a journal news release. The study was published in the journal recently.
The report found that the heaviest drinkers in the world are in Eastern Europe, where an estimated 3.7 gallons of alcohol are consumed per person, on average, per year.
Northern Europe isn’t far behind, the study found, while people in Central, Southern and Western Asia drink the least, averaging about a half-gallon of alcohol annually.
Smoking is most common in Eastern Europe and the Oceania region (30 percent of adults) and Western Europe (20 percent). North and Central America/Caribbean use injection drugs the most, with the lowest rate in Northern Europe.
Gowing’s team noted that getting reliable statistics on illicit drugs is much tougher, but they estimate that about 15 million people worldwide inject illicit drugs such as heroin.