SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
BACKGROUND: The economic, social and health costs associated with alcohol-related harms are important measures with which to inform alcohol management policies and laws. This analysis builds on previous cost estimates for South Africa. METHODS: We reviewed existing international best-practice costing frameworks to provide the costing definitions and dimensions. We sourced data from South African costing literature or, if unavailable, estimated costs using socio-economic and health data from secondary sources. Care was taken to avoid possible causes of cost overestimation, in particular double counting and, as far as possible, second-round effects of alcohol abuse. RESULTS: The combined total tangible and intangible costs of alcohol harm to the economy were estimated at 10 - 12% of the 2009 gross domestic product (GDP). The tangible financial cost of harmful alcohol use alone was estimated at R37.9 billion, or 1.6% of the 2009 GDP. DISCUSSION: The costs of alcohol-related harms provide a substantial counterbalance to the economic benefits highlighted by the alcohol industry to counter stricter regulation. Curtailing these costs by regulatory and policy interventions contributes directly and indirectly to social well-being and the economy. CONCLUSIONS: Existing frameworks that guide the regulation and distribution of alcohol frequently focus on maximising the contribution of the alcohol sector to the economy, but should also take into account the associated economic, social and health costs. Current interventions do not systematically address the most important causes of harm from alcohol, and need to be informed by reliable evidence of the ongoing costs of alcohol-related harms.