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Acceptable risk?: Why does society accept a higher risk for alcohol than for other voluntary or involuntary risks?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD). Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point, Australia; University of Melbourne, Australia.
2014 (English)In: BMC Medicine, ISSN 1741-7015, Vol. 12, 189- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: Societies tend to accept much higher risks for voluntary behaviours, those based on individualdecisions (for example, to smoke, to consume alcohol, or to ski), than for involuntary exposure such as exposure torisks in soil, drinking water or air. In high-income societies, an acceptable risk to those voluntarily engaging in a riskybehaviour seems to be about one death in 1,000 on a lifetime basis. However, drinking more than 20 g purealcohol per day over an adult lifetime exceeds a threshold of one in 100 deaths, based on a calculation from WorldHealth Organization data of the odds in six European countries of dying from alcohol-attributable causes at differentlevels of drinking.

Discussion: The voluntary mortality risk of alcohol consumption exceeds the risks of other lifestyle risk factors. Inaddition, evidence shows that the involuntary risks resulting from customary alcohol consumption far exceed theacceptable threshold for other involuntary risks (such as those established by the World Health Organization ornational environmental agencies), and would be judged as not acceptable. Alcohol’s exceptional status reflectsvagaries of history, which have so far resulted in alcohol being exempted from key food legislation (no labelling ofingredients and nutritional information) and from international conventions governing all other psychoactivesubstances (both legal and illegal). This is along with special treatment of alcohol in the public health field, in partreflecting overestimation of its beneficial effect on ischaemic disease when consumed in moderation.

Summary: A much higher mortality risk from alcohol than from other risk factors is currently accepted by highincome countries.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 12, 189- p.
Keyword [en]
Acceptable risk, alcohol, mortality, patterns of drinking, risk, voluntary versus involuntary risk
National Category
Substance Abuse Sociology
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-109124DOI: 10.1186/s12916-014-0189-zISI: 000344894100001OAI: diva2:767349
Available from: 2014-12-01 Created: 2014-11-13 Last updated: 2014-12-16Bibliographically approved

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