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Alcohol related deaths at pandemic levels

Alcohol related deaths at pandemic levels

by Roger Brooking

The current focus on problems caused by alcohol in New Zealand occurs in a context which most New Zealanders are unaware of. Over 1,000 people in New Zealand die directly from alcohol related causes each year – because of car accidents, drownings, liver cirrhosis and approximately 60 other health problems caused by drinking. This statistic does not even begin to reflect the reduced quality of life which thousands of others experience because of excessive drinking.

Economist, Brian Easton says the cost of damage caused by alcohol in New Zealand is $16 billion a year rather than the $4 billion cited by ALAC and frequently misquoted by other sources. He even says New Zealand’s population would be 30,000 higher than it is if it weren’t for premature deaths caused by drinking.

International mortality figures are equally disturbing. In the United States, government estimates say alcohol is responsible for 100,000 deaths a year. In the European Union, alcohol is estimated to kill 200,000 people a year - that’s 540 people a day.

Alcohol related death occurs in virtually every country in the world, a situation which in many respects resembles a pandemic. Pandemics are classified by the World Health Organisation on a scale of severity from 1 to 5 – where a category 1 kills less than 0.1 of those who contract the condition and a category 5 kills at least 2%.

Using the 785,000 New Zealanders who binge drink regularly as ‘those with the condition’, the annual death rate from alcohol consumption in New Zealand makes it a category 1 pandemic.

The worst pandemic in New Zealand history was the influenza epidemic of 1918 which killed an estimated 8,200 Kiwis. That was nearly 100 years ago. Excessive alcohol consumption is akin to a category 1 pandemic that hits us every year - not once every hundred years.



Roger Brooking is the Clinical Manager at ADAC Ltd that specialises in Alcohol & Drug Assessments & Counselling.

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