The cost of harmful alcohol use in South Africa

Richard Gregory Matzopoulos, Sarah Truen, Brett Bowman, Joanne Corrigall


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.

Authors' affiliations

Richard Gregory Matzopoulos, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Parow, Cape Town, South Africa

Sarah Truen, DNA Economic Consultancy, Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa

Brett Bowman, School of Human and Community Development, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Joanne Corrigall, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Full Text

PDF (174KB)


alcohol costing; burden of disease; alcohol use

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(2):127-132. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7644

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-10-23
Date published: 2013-11-28

Article Views

Abstract views: 7936
Full text views: 2600

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here