For those who are not aware of my background, I have been studying, writing, speaking and consulting on addiction as a brain disease, mental illness, co-occurring disorders, alcohol misuse, impacts of a person’s drinking or drug misuse on others – especially the family – and related topics for over 12 years.
In 2009, I coined the terms, Secondhand Drinking and Secondhand Drugging, to move our focus away from the alcohol or drug misuer to the “harm to others” of a person’s drinking or drug misuse behaviors. For the remainder of this article, I’m going to narrow this to just alcohol’s harm to others, what I call Secondhand Drinking. To that end, I am going to share highlights of some of the recent, global research being conducted in this area. As you will soon understand, secondhand drinking (alcohol’s harm to others) has a signficiant impact on others, an impact I address through my speaking, training and consulting work with SHD Prevention and BreakingTheCycles.com.
“Alcohol’s Harm to Others,” an Institute of Alcohol Studies Report Produced by UK University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), July 2015
The following is a direct quote from this report – “Alcohol’s Harm to Others” – written by Lucy Gell, Abdallah Ally, Penny Buykx, Ann Hope and Petra Meier, pages 5 – 7:
Alcohol consumption is often constructed as a problem that affects individual drinkers rather than other people (3) and the health and social consequences of alcohol consumption for heavy drinkers has long been established (4). However, alcohol consumption can have a range of negative consequences for people around the drinker. There is an increasing level of awareness of and research into the role of alcohol in negative health and social outcomes for the family, friends, co-workers, strangers and wider society. Known as ‘passive harm’ or ‘harm to others’, this report provides an overview of international evidence on alcohol’s harm to others and presents findings on the socio-demographic variations in and clustering of harms in North West England and Scotland. Finally, it summarises UK and EU policies to address alcohol’s harm to others and suggest possible directions for future research in this field.
2.1.What do we mean by alcohol’s harm to others?
Alcohol’s harm to others can be defined as the adverse effects of someone’s drinking on people in a range of different relationships to the drinker (5). A road-traffic accident caused by a driver who had been drinking may result in the injury or death of passengers, those travelling in other vehicles, or pedestrians. A family may experience financial problems because money for household expenses is used to buy alcohol. A partner or child may be subject to violent assault by a drunken family member. A friend may be dragged into a drunken fight. A couple may find their house or car damaged as a result of the alcohol fuelled behaviour of strangers. A child might miss an activity because their parents are drunk or hungover. A worker may be forced to cover the workload of a colleague who often calls in sick after a night out. Workplace absenteeism generates lost productivity with knock-on effects for the wider economy. Healthcare expenditure on treating both the drinker and those harmed by the drinking of others comes from a finite government budget – if we were able to reduce such harms then the government could make this expenditure available for other purposes. These few examples highlight the range of direct and indirect harm to others from alcohol consumption.
For more on this research, including an “Overview of nature and scale of alcohol’s harm to others,” the “Prevalence of alcohol’s harm to others,” in New Zealand, the U.S., Ireland, and Australia, as examples, and methods of study used, click here to download the PDF.
“Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health,” World Health Organization, 2014
While the focus of this report – “Global Status Report on Alchol and Health” – is centered around, 1) Alcohol and Public Health, 2) Alcohol Consumption, 3) Health Consequences and 4) Alcohol Policy and Interventions, I’ll focus on the following two sections, quoted directly from this report, pages 14 – 18:
1.6.3 Harms to other individuals
The harms done by people’s drinking to others involve both socioeconomic consequences and substantial health problems, such as alcohol-related injuries, mental health impacts and FASD (see Box 5 for examples; Navarro et al., 2011). As stated in the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (WHO, 2010a), ‘special attention needs to be given to reducing harm to people other than the drinker’. The individual(s) affected may be a spouse or partner, child, relative, friend, neighbour, co-worker, person living in the same household, or a stranger, as is particularly common in the case of traffic crashes.
The harms to others may be concrete and externally verifiable, as with injuries or damages, or may be more subject to social definition, as with some social role defaults, or to another’s perception, as with many losses of amenity (Laslett et al., 2011). The harms may be relatively mild, such as being wakened by drunken carousers outside, or may be very severe, including death or a lifelong disability. A survey specific to harms to others in New Zealand found the prevalence of such harms to be higher than the prevalence of harms from one’s own drinking (18% versus 12%), particularly among women and young people (Connor & Casswell, 2012). The same research group found that the greater the exposure to heavy drinkers, the lower people’s scores on measures of personal well-being and health status (Casswell et al., 2011).
Reflecting the information that is most readily available in the underlying health system statistics, measures of problems from alcohol consumption have primarily focused on harm to the drinker’s health and have placed limited emphasis on the harm to the health and welfare of others around the drinker. …It is important to develop algorithms to enable a more systematic and complete inclusion of both harm to health and social harm to others into future burden of disease studies. The first step was taken in an Australian survey, which found that more than two thirds of respondents had been adversely affected by someone else’s drinking in the past year, and about 50% of the Australian population were negatively impacted by a stranger’s drinking (Laslett et al., 2011). …WHO has identified research on harm to others from drinking as a major strand in the Research Initiative on Alcohol, Health and Development, and initiated a collaborative research project with Thai Health on this topic (see Box 6 for details). More work is necessary to quantify the effects of alcohol on others in a way similar to that used to quantify the effects of passive smoking.
220.127.116.11 Social and economic costs
Harms from drinking are not only personal and they are not limited to health. Rather, harmful use of alcohol may also impose significant social and economic costs on society. …The second major category of social costs is indirect costs. These result, for example, from lost productivity due to absenteeism, unemployment, decreased output, reduced earnings potential and lost working years due to premature pension or death (Anderson et al., 2006; Thavorncharoensap et al., 2009). These indirect costs are typically borne by society at large, because the alcohol-attributable loss in workforce productivity can affect the economic viability of an entire community (Room et al., 2002). A third category, which is poorly measured and for which the practice of adding estimates is disputable, is intangible costs. Intangible costs are the costs assigned to pain and suffering, and more generally to a diminished quality of life. Such intangible costs are borne by the drinkers, as well as their families and potentially by other individuals linked to the drinker (Anderson et al., 2006; Thavorncharoensap et al., 2009).
To read the World Health Organization’s 2014 “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health,” click here…
Kettil Bruun Society (KBS) Thematic Meeting: “Alcohol’s Harm to Others – Perceptions, Policies and Approaches,” held in Helsinki, Finland September 14-17, 2015
The KBS Thematic Meeting is co-organized by the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (Finland), the Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research (Norway), the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research (Denmark) and the Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Sweden).
I will let the program for KBS Thematic Meeting: “Alcohol’s Harm to Others – Perceptions, Policies and Approaches” tell the story. It, in and of itself, sheds light on just how far this global study of alcohol’s harm to others – secondhand drinking – has spread, with section topics that included:
- Adults’ drinking and harms to children in Vietnam
- Emotional symptoms among young people with perceived parental alcohol problems
- The impact of alcohol’s harm to others on wellbeing and health status in Lao PDR and Thailand
- Harms from alcohol drinking by co-workers in the Lao PDR
- Harms from alcohol use accrue importantly to the families
- Magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others and its ties to alcohol control policy in Lithuania
- Alcohol misuse and harms to others in the frontier towns of India
- Risks to children’s safety, health and psychological development related to parents’ substance abuse – results from a Finnish register based study
Two Other Studies on Alcohol’s Harm to Others…
- “The Hidden Harm: Alcohol’s Impacts on Children and Families,” funded by Australia’s Foundatoin for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE) and undertaken by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), 2015.
- CAPR’s “Alcohol’s Harm to Others” study (commenced in 2008 – results released in 2010) examines how individual acts of alcohol misuse ripple through families, workplaces and communities, by measuring their impact on people other than the drinker.
As you have gathered, the impacts of secondhand drinking – alcohol’s harm to others – is huge, and as you have also learned in browsing through my site, it directly impacts 90 million Americans and up to 40% of a workforce. Consider contacting me about using one of my solutions to reduce the workplace impacts of alcohol misuse and secondhand drinking – the positive results of such a program can be just as staggering.