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Alcoholism Costs More Than Cancer: Study

An alarming study reveals that the cost of treating alcoholism is climbing; so much so that it has surpassed cancer as the main recipient of our health care dollars.

The research, released by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found that treating alcohol abuse costs each Canadian $463 a year.

“Alcohol costs our health care system with acute care hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and with specialized treatment. Overall the direct health care costs of alcohol abuse are higher than the health care costs of all of the cancers combined,” pointed out lead scientist Dr Jurgen Rehm in an interview.

Bill, an alcoholic who has been sober for 16 years, knows full well the horrors of his addiction.

“It’s a disease that tells you ‘you haven’t got a disease,'” Bill says. He got clean after completing Alcoholic’s Anonymous 12 Step Program. Before that, though, he lost his wife and his children.

After achieving sobriety, he’s now plagued with health problems.

“I have Hepatitis C. I acquired that through drinking. I ended up needing a liver transplant,” he explains. He also has cancer of the bladder.

And even though he hasn’t touched a drink in 16 years, “there is no happy ending in alcoholism,” he warns.

But according to the man behind the paper, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Rehm, a senior scientist at CAMH, and his team proposed that six reviewed interventions would save about $1 billion per year – and 800 lives.

“It’s clear that the largest impact would come from interventions affecting the level of drinking in general such as brief interventions and increasing alcohol taxation,” Dr. Rehm said in a press release.

“However, the greatest overall cost avoidance would be achieved when multiple rather than single effective and cost-effective alcohol interventions are implemented as part of a comprehensive alcohol policy.”

The interventions would consist of routine screening and concise advice for those who abuse alcohol, to be provided by physicians. 

Other suggestions from the paper include increasing the tax on alcohol, raising the drinking age to 21, and lower the blood alcohol limit for drivers to 0.05 per cent.

Read the Avoidable Cost of Alcohol Abuse in Canada 2002.

Highlights:
The data revealed that:

  • Implementing all six interventions would decrease productivity losses by more than $561 million or 58 per cent of the total avoidable cost due to alcohol, decrease health care costs (saving almost $230 million or 24 per cent), and lower criminality costs by almost $178 million or 18 per cent.
  • The most effective intervention to reduce avoidable costs in health care, criminality and productivity losses was the brief interventions (saving almost $602 million per year, 62 per cent of total savings),followed by increasing alcohol taxes (saving more than $211 million per year, 22 per cent of total savings).
  • The most effective intervention for preventing drinking and driving incidents in Canada was lowering the BAC level, which would result in a 19 per cent reduction.
  • The Safer Bars program was the most effective measure to avoid homicide and other violent crimes (more than 3 per cent reductions were estimated).
  • Brief interventions were the most effective measure to avoid other alcohol-attributable criminal activities (e.g., property crime), resulting in an almost 3 per cent reduction in these types of crimes.