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The Human and Social Cost of Alcohol Abuse in the EU

28 January 2014

The International Blue Cross works in 43 countries world-wide. This brings me the challenge of paying attention to regional needs. During 2013, we focused on producing tools and manuals for our African Blue Cross organisations so that they can work on the important issue of alcohol policy development, provide quality self-help services, and start effective life-skills programmes for young people.

This year, we will continue working on these themes. However, I want to stop for a moment to discuss the situation in Europe. Europe has 17 Blue Cross organisations. Most of them provide a variety of professional treatment, counselling, and aftercare services for those addicted to alcohol. In addition, there is a great emphasis on prevention and on supporting families to raise children who have the skills and capacities to understand the importance of making the right choices regarding alcohol use.

Europeans have the highest alcohol consumption in the world. The most common reason for working age deaths is related to alcohol. The attitudes within Europe are still very “stubborn”. Alcohol is not seen as “my” problem. It is still blamed on the individual who abuses alcohol and the death of an addicted person can be mentioned to be a solution – as it reduces the cost of treatment to the society. Shocking! But these are the comments I hear.

An addicted person influences such a wide group of people related to them that it is almost impossible to comprehend: the family, school or work colleagues, friends, all places the addicted person visits – shopkeepers, pharmacists, bus drivers, etc. – it is like a spider web! All of these people may feel distressed due to their concern or the abuse they may experience from the addicted person. Also, he or she might cause accidents involving other people, contribute to the spread of diseases. In addition, the concern for the addicts may negatively influence people – like professional carers, managers, and teachers – on the emotional level. In some cases, drink driving has dramatic consequences. The costs for an employer generated by missed working days, unfilled promises, uncompleted tasks or empty words are high. I guess you start having the picture. It is the addict who is suffering, but not only – their alcohol abuse has an extremely high cost for their surroundings. This is why addiction is a grave matter of concern for us all.

We need evidence-based alcohol policies that reduce the number of people becoming addicted in the first place through pricing, taxation, limited availability of alcoholic beverages in public places, advertising, age limits, etc. Evidence-based studies show that, if we can delay the onset of young people’s alcohol consumption, we can reduce the risk of them getting addicted to alcohol. This is definitely an action where all adults can join – but do we do it?

This is my concern and I – together with the International Blue Cross – want to take action! I encourage you to join me!

Anne Babb, General Secretary, Finland

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