Science Puts Price on Alcohol Use Disorder
New science puts a price tag on alcohol use disorder (AUD) by estimating the costs of different risk factors for AUD. Evaluating the costs linked to AUDs, scientists show that sustained abstinence reduces the costs of care, recommending to develop rehabilitation services and provide easy access to care, including comprehensive support for their non-alcohol related conditions that people with alcohol use disorders often are experiencing.
Key results of the study
- The number of diagnoses of chronic conditions played the biggest role in the overall cumulation of costs in patients with AUD.
- In patients with at least two chronic conditions, the average 5-year costs of care were €26,000 (around US$ 30,000) higher than in patients without multiple diagnoses.
- The costs of care increased by earlier use of specialized care (and its high costs), receiving income support, and being over 55 years old.
- Drug use, homelessness and the number of psychiatric diagnoses also increased the costs of care.
- Sustained abstinence lowered the costs. A model created by the researchers shows that roughly 43% of alcohol use disorder patients who quit alcohol use belong to the lowest cost quartile, compared with the respective figure of 24% for current alcohol users.
Since sustained abstinence reduces the costs of care, it would be wise to develop rehabilitation services and provide easy access to care. In addition, people with alcohol use disorders should also get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions,” said, Elina Rautiainen, lead author of the study, as per Science Daily.
The study was funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland and carried out in collaboration between researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, and Aalto University.
The sample was 363 Finnish alcohol use disorder patients diagnosed in 2011-2012. Their data were collected from various patient information systems and social welfare databases over a period of five years.
The study used a machine learning technique that is based on a Bayesian network model to analyse causal relationships between different risk factors and the costs associated with them. The analysis included a total of 16 risk factors, including socioeconomic variables such as age, gender, marital status, unemployment status, and social problems like homelessness, illicit drug use, criminal record, and driving under the influence.
The researchers also looked at what happens when a patient goes into remission. They were able to come up with a price for each risk factor after controlling for confounding variables.
Importance of health taxes
Taxing health harmful products such as alcohol is a cost-effective measure to drive down alcohol consumption and harm, including alcohol use disorder. Furthermore, health taxes can be used to invest in health benefits packages of governments to fund care and support for alcohol use disorder.
The following key messages on health taxes are cited in an analysis published on the BMJ:
- Health taxes can be extremely cost effective, often generating revenue, while delivering large improvements in population health;
- Decisions on tax are not usually considered in the same way as other health interventions, which limits their use;
- The success and proliferation of health technology assessment (HTA) bodies provides the opportunity to widen the traditional scope of HTA to include valuable non-health sector interventions, like health taxes; and
- Extending the use of evidence informed approaches for other healthcare interventions to health taxes will enable advancement in public health through systemic, population level change.
… health taxes are an extremely cost effective yet neglected area compared with areas traditionally focused on by HTA (health technology assessment) agencies,” cite Vageesh Jain, Peter Baker and Kalipso Chalkidou, in a BMJ analysis paper, as per BMJ.
Governments should prioritize harnessing the preventive health intervention of health taxes which can in turn fund curative health interventions such as care and support for alcohol use disorder.