Publication Detail

Stockwell, T., R., Chikritzhs, T., N. and Brinkman, S., A. (2000). The role of social and health statistics in measuring harm from alcohol. Journal of Substance Abuse, 12, (1), pp. 139-154. [RJ341]

Since excess use of alcohol contributes to so many varieties of health and social harms, in most countries there are many potential sources of data indicative of alcohol-related harms. In a few instances, compilation and interpretation of these data are straightforward but mostly they are open to various sources of measurement error which need to be taken into account if they are to be applied for research purposes. Police and health statistics are the major source of such information but the underlying systems are not usually set up with the purpose of monitoring alcohol-related events. In both of these domains, types of events can be identified which are wholly attributable to excess alcohol use i.e. drink-driving, alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Specific alcohol-related events are particularly prone to variations in, respectively, police enforcement practices, medical diagnostic fashion and sensitivity to prejudices about alcohol-related problems. A case will be made in this paper for the use of multiple surrogate measures of alcohol-related harm drawn from several sources in order to measure and track local, regional and national trends. For health statistics on mortality and morbidity, the aetiologic fraction method will be recommended for such monitoring purposes. It will also be recommended that these data are categorised by the degree to which cases are attributable to alcohol and also by whether the underlying hazardous drinking pattern is a brief drinking bout or a sustained pattern of heavy intake over a number of years. Night-time occurrences of road crashes, public violence from both police and emergency room attendance data will also be recommended. It will be argued that routine recording of alcohol-relatedness of events is usually unreliable and the above surrogate measures are preferable. Recommendations will also be made for utilising national surveys of drinking behaviour to improve the calculation of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality as well as refine estimates of per capita alcohol consumption, another major 'surrogate' measure of alcohol-related harm. The arguments will be illustrated with reference to Australia's National Alcohol Indicators Project and related research projects.

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