Drugs congress targets alcohol

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DOCTORS and academics at an international conference are to debate calls for a world-wide ban on alcohol. The 36th Congress on Alcohol and Drug Dependency, which opened yesterday in Glasgow, will discuss whether a total ban on alcohol is a realistic or medically worthwhile goal.

The five-day congress, expected to attract 800 delegates from 54 countries, will also be examining tobacco addiction; studies of the role of alcohol in the development of HIV infection; and the prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users.

Dr Peter Anderson, of the World Health Organisation, said that Europe has the highest alcohol consumption in the world. The congress will be told that the European regional office of the World Health Organisation is to launch an initiative aimed at reducing alcohol consumption in Europe.

The action plan will be seen as part of a current European regional strategy that wants to see European Community member states reduce alcohol consumption by 25 per cent by 2000.

Dr Anderson said the economic burden from alcohol use has been estimated, in some countries, at between 5 and 6 per cent of gross national product, with 6 per cent of all deaths among the under-75s related to alcohol use. In 15 European countries the annual per capita consumption of alcohol exceeds eight litres (1.8 gallons) of pure alcohol.

However, leading doctors and academics are divided on whether alcohol needs to be banned and whether the 'disease' label for alcoholism is hindering or promoting its understanding.