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Consumption of alcohol, tobacco could pose bigger health threat than drugs

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Global estimates suggest that nearly one in seven adults (15.2%) smoke tobacco and one in five adults report at least one occasion of heavy alcohol use in the past month. It’s an alarming figure. Scientists say that tobacco and alcohol pose a greater threat to human health around the globe than the use of all other addictive, illicit drugs, including cannabis and opioids.

A study, published in the journal Addiction, showed that in 2015 alcohol and tobacco use cost the human population more than a quarter of a billion disability-adjusted life years, with illicit drugs costing a further tens of millions.

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Researchers, including those from University of New South Wales in Australia and University of Bristol in the UK, found that the largest health burden from substance use was attributable to tobacco smoking and the smallest was attributable to illicit drugs.

The reasons to give up smoking are many: it causes immense damage to the lungs, increases your risk of heart problems and skin diseases. A research earlier this year found that smoking and alcohol consumption could raise your risk of developing a rapid heart rate, which is called atrial fibrillation. This can in turn lead to a stroke, dementia, heart failure and other complications. Moreover, those who smoke and drink heavily are also likely to age faster and look older than their contemporaries.

Interestingly, according to research, people who quit smoking also start drinking lesser alcohol.

Compared with the rest of the world, Central, Eastern, and Western Europe recorded consistently higher alcohol consumption per capita (11.61, 11.98 and 11.09 litres, respectively) and a higher percentage of heavy consumption amongs drinkers (50.5 per cent, 48.2 per cent, and 40.2 per cent, respectively). The same European regions also recorded the highest prevalence of tobacco smoking.

In contrast, use of illicit drugs was far less common. Fewer than one in twenty people were estimated to use cannabis in the past year, and much lower estimates were observed for amphetamines, opioids and cocaine. Hotspots included the US, Canada, and Australasia.

Some countries and regions (eg, Africa, Caribbean and Latin America, Asia regions) have little or no data on substance use and associated health burden. These are typically low or middle income countries that frequently have punitive drug policies, and may experience serious political and social unrest.

(With inputs from Press Trust of India)

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