Disease burden of alcohol, drugs revealed

A new report reveals alcohol and drug abuse accounts for about one in every 20 deaths in Australia.
A new report reveals alcohol and drug abuse accounts for about one in every 20 deaths in Australia.

Alcohol and illicit drugs are collectively responsible for nearly one in 20 deaths reported in Australia every year, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report.

The misuse of alcohol and drugs has long been associated with a range of diseases and death, including road fatalities, overdose and suicide.

Analysis of the last Australian Burden of Disease Study, published in 2016, has now revealed how significant the burden of alcohol and drugs is on the health of Australians.

Combined, alcohol and illicit drugs were responsible for 4.5 per cent of all deaths in Australia in 2011 - equating to 6660 deaths, or about one in every 20 deaths, according to the AIHW report released on Thursday.

The total disease burden of alcohol and illicit drugs - that is life lost from early death, as well as years of healthy life lost due to living with diseases or injuries caused by alcohol and drugs - was 6.7 per cent.

This compares to nine per cent from tobacco smoking and 2.6 per cent from physical inactivity.

According to AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon the health impacts of alcohol and illicit drugs was highest among men, who had a 9.1 per cent disease burden compared to 3.8 per cent in females.

By itself, alcohol use was responsible for 4.6 per cent of all disease burden. One-third of this burden was due to alcohol dependence.

Interestingly, alcohol use was responsible for almost one-third of the burden of road traffic injuries.

On its own, illicit drug use was responsible for 2.3 per cent of Australia's disease burden. Opioids accounted for the largest proportion (41 per cent), followed by amphetamines (18 per cent) and cocaine (eight per cent).

Despite the significant contribution of alcohol to Australia's disease burden, the report predicts improvements will be seen in the coming years.

"The burden from alcohol use fell by around seven per cent between 2003 and 2011 and further reductions are expected by 2020 based on these trends,'" Dr Moon said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Australian Associated Press