Alcohol and tobacco are the "biggest threat" among addictive drugs


"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."

Data suggest that among addictive drugs, tobacco causes the largest health burden.

While illegal drugs are a bigger in the U.S. than in some other countries - specifically, we use marijuana, opioids and cocaine at higher rates - the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of the death among Americans.

The researchers found that, worldwide, an estimated 18 percent of people reported "heavy" alcohol use in the last month (heavy use corresponds to more than 60 grams of alcohol, or about four standard drinks, on one occasion).

The study, despite its limitations, emphasizes the risks of alcohol and tobacco use which present the biggest threat to health and wellbeing worldwide. However, the use of illegal drugs was far less common than these other two vices, with less than one in every 20 adults admitted to using cannabis over the past year.

Europe's various regions report the most serious consumption of both smokes and booze. Over the prior year pot, amphetamine, opioid, and cocaine use came in at 4% of the adult population, with majority way under.

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According to the report, alcohol consumption and smoking rates are highest in Central, Eastern, and Western Europe, while illicit drug use is lower in these areas and higher in the United States, Canada, and Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the Pacific).

The "disability-adjusted life years" decreased in accordance with each category.

Per capita, Central Europeans drink 11.61 liters of alcohol per person, Eastern Europeans drink 11.98 liters per person, and Western Europeans consume 11.09 liters. These regions also had the highest levels of daily tobacco smoking, with around 21 to 24 percent of those populations reporting daily smoking, according to the review.

But wide other swaths of the world - especially the developing world in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia - do not have health and substance-abuse data, the paper adds. The authors note there are important limitations to the data but believe they "will make it easier for governments and worldwide agencies to develop policies to combat substance use".

Still, "Regular compilations of global data on geographic variations in prevalence of substance use and disease burden, such as this, may encourage the improvements in data and methods required to produce better future estimates", they conclude.