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Global disability due to alcohol and drug use has increased over 20 years: landmark report

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Date Published:
14 Dec 2012
Contact person:
Susi Hamilton, UNSW Office of Media and Communication
0422 934 024

A landmark report published today in international journal The Lancet shows that mental illness is now the largest contributor to disability worldwide, with drug and alcohol use disorders contributing the most to mental disability after depression and anxiety.

The report, Global Burden of Disease 2010,  ranks 291 causes of disability and death over the period 1990 -2010 measuring ‘Years of Life Lost (YLL) and Years Lived with Disability' (YLD) and combines the two to calculate the final measure of disability adjusted life years (DALYs).

NDARC’s Professor Louisa Degenhardt co-chaired the Expert Group on Mental Disorders and Illicit Drug Use and says the findings indicate that illicit drugs have become a bigger contributor to the global burden of disease over the past 20 years (from 1990 to 2010).

The largest contributor to global YLDs is mental and behavioral disorders (22.7 %).  In the GBD 2010, the number of mental and behavioural disorders included has increased to 22 conditions compared to eight in the GBD 1990.

Mental and behavioural disorders account for 185.2 million DALYs (7.4%); within this large grouping five different diseases cause more than 15 million DALYs each. In order of importance, the major causes are major depression (2.5%), anxiety (1.1%), drug use disorders (0.8%), alcohol use disorders (0.7%), and schizophrenia (0.6%).

GBD 2010 is a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (UW) in the US and involves 302 institutions across 50 countries. This is the first report since the inaugural study was published in the early 1990s. (See the report’s main release from UW attached below). The GBD is the only effort to date to quantify non-fatal health outcomes. Until recently, health liabilities were expressed using one measure: (expected or average number of) ‘Years of Life Lost’ (YLL). This measure does not take the impact of disability into account, which can be expressed by: 'Years Lived with Disability' (YLD). The 1990 GBD proposed disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) to measure both. It is calculated by taking the sum of YLL and YLD.

NDARC researchers Bianca Calabria, Chiara Stone (Bucello) and Paul Nelson are also authors on the papers. Detailed findings on the burden due to illicit drug use will be published next year.