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‘New study reveals the extent of alcohol’s harm to those other than the drinker’

A new study from Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University has addressed a gap in understanding around the full scope of alcohol-related harm.

The recently published research explores the impact of alcohol consumption on people beyond the drinker including instances of harm involving traffic injuries, interpersonal injuries and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The results showed the estimated burden of disease from alcohol on those other than the drinker was slightly greater than the combined impacts of alcohol-use on drinkers themselves. This was based on the estimated number of years of healthy life lost due to either living with disability or premature deaths.

Lead author of the study and Co-Director of the SHORE and Whariki Research Centre Professor Sally Casswell believes the findings will be surprising to many.

“For there to be greater impact on people other than the drinker emphasises the need to consider the full range of harms involved when assessing the need for improved alcohol policy.”

A large contribution to the ‘harm of others’ was attributed to FASD at 90.3 per cent.

“The fact that those affected by FASD bear the largest contribution of these adverse impacts is significant. It is a lifelong condition with no known treatment, and those affected are more likely to require child protection services or become involved with the criminal justice system. The impacts among the family can be great.”

Māori were found to suffer harms related to others’ use of alcohol at a higher rate than non-Māori. Years of life lost due to disability affected Māori at a rate of 25 per 1000 of the population and among non-Māori the rate was 15 per 1000.

“These estimates from our research support the claims currently before the Waitangi Tribunal about the Crown’s failure to protect Māori from the impact of alcohol by not putting in place an effective alcohol policy, or responding adequately to FASD,” Professor Casswell says.

Funded by the Health Research Council, the research seeks to improve international estimations of comparative harm. Globally, risk factors like tobacco, obesity and alcohol are often compared in terms of their impact on the global burden of disease and injury. However, Professor Casswell says existing comparisons have not adequately accounted for alcohol’s harm to others, which plays a larger role in alcohol-related harm compared with tobacco.

According to the findings, it is estimated that 78,277 healthy life years were lost in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2018 due to alcohol’s harm to others. The main contributor was FASD, followed by traffic crashes at 6.3 per cent and interpersonal violence 3.4 per cent. The burden of harm to others was greater than that to drinkers, with Disability Adjusted Life Years for others totalling 78,277 compared to 60,174 for drinkers.

The research uses data from New Zealand’s hospitalisation records, ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) and survey data, along with new estimates of the disability associated with FASD and international alcohol-attribution fractions (the contribution alcohol makes to specific injury and conditions). It features in the Addiction journal published this week.


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