Evidence from developing countries
In the last decade, the level of alcohol consumption in developing countries has increased significantly. Although the social and economic costs of the associated with excess consumption are unknown, evidence from household surveys in LAC on the prevalence of illicit substances and from the literature in other developing countries confirms that alcoholism and alcohol-related problems have emerged as priority public health concerns in several Latin American countries.
In Colombia, for example, data from a questionnaire used to evaluate alcoholism indicate that 71 percent of the male study population (56 % of total population) used alcohol in the prior year. Specific questions used to evaluate the population at risk of alcoholism indicate that 7.3 percent of the total study population was at high risk of alcohol dependence, while another 8.1 percent was classified as alcoholic. Evidence of prevalence among adolescents indicates that a large percentage of the 16-19 age group was at high risk of becoming alcoholic. Even more alarming, is evidence of the impact of alcohol abuse on morbidity from several other studies of hospital patients in Latin America and one study in Kenya.
In 1984, 21 percent of all people treated for injuries in Mexico City's emergency rooms had positive alcohol readings (more than 10 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood) and similar levels were found in 22 percent of the emergency room cases in Acapulco in 1987. Additional research in La Paz, Bolivia found that 26 percent of the hospitalizations, during the survey period, were for alcohol-related problems. Studies designed specifically to gauge the prevalence of alcohol-related problems among the poor (Brazil 1965 and 1974), found that in peri-urhan areas 6 percent of the persons in the survey were "pathological drinkers" and the alcoholism rate was as high as 23 percent in some of the marginal areas. A similar study at a rural district hospital in Kenya found that 54 percent of the male and 25 percent of the female outpatients met a predefined criteria for alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism.
In addition to the direct affect of alcohol on increased morbidity and mortality, alcohol also produces equally damaging secondary effects. These range from the less obvious damaging effects on the family to incarceration, suicide and even homicide. In fact, a 1985 study in Mexico found that nearly 50 percent of those convicted of homicide admitted to having consumed an excess of alcoholic beverages prior to committing the crime (Medina-Mora 1990). While it is difficult to measure the impact of these problems on society, government intervention in the form of social programs is warranted to ameliorate the burden on the families of alcoholics.
As this section and the section on the cost of alcohol-related problems show, the impact of alcoholrelated problems is not insignificant and whether the problem is cirrhosis of the liver or family abuse, alcoholrelated problems are an increasing problem for developing countries. Moreover, increasing levels of income and rapidly expanding populations, a general lack of regulations and low consumer information make the developing countries an excellent market for beverage companies. While these problems have a yet untold cost to less developed societies and economies, without changes in laws and regulations which govern advertising and taxation, alcohol-related problems will only increase in the years ahead.
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