World Health Organisation
Drug prevalence and harm comparison




The global burden

Psychoactive substance use poses a significant threat to the health, social and economic fabric of families, communities and nations. The extent of worldwide psychoactive substance use is estimated at 2 billion alcohol users, 1.3 billion smokers and 185 million drug users.

Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) are calculated by adding the years of life lost due to premature mortality and the years of life lost due to living with disability. The years of life lost due to disability are determined from morbidity, where each disease has been given a certain disability weight, which is multiplied with the time spent with that disease, to arrive at the years of life lost due to disability.

  Mortality DALYs
Tobacco 8.8 4.1
Alcohol 3.2 4.0
Illicit drugs 0.4 0.8

In an initial estimate of factors responsible for the global burden of disease, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs contributed together 12.4% of all deaths worldwide in the year 2000. Looking at the percentage of total years of life lost due to these substances, it has been estimated that they account for 8.9%.

The global burden of these three psychoactive substance categories varies across the WHO Regions. The disease burden in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) is significantly higher in Europe and the Western Pacific than in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Also the share of the burden for the different substances varies, tobacco is the largest burden in Europe and South-East Asia while alcohol poses the largest burden in Africa, the Americas, and Western Pacific.

WHO seeks to promote the concept of Health for All through its strategy of reducing the incidence and prevalence of psychoactive substance use and to provide the best available evidence on management of substance related problems. The achievement of this goal is designed to lead to reductions in the demand for psychoactive substances and to reduce the health and social problems associated with such use.