Substance use and dependence cause a significant burden to individuals and societies throughout the world. The World Health Report 2002 indicated that 8.9% of the total burden of disease comes from the use of psychoactive substances. The report showed that tobacco accounted for 4.1%, alcohol 4%, and illicit drugs 0.8% of the burden of disease in 2000. Much of the burden attributable to substance use and dependence is the result of a wide variety of health and social problems, including HIV/AIDS, which is driven in many countries by injecting drug use. This neuroscience report is the first attempt by WHO to provide a comprehensive overview of the biological factors related to substance use and dependence by summarizing the vast amount of knowledge gained in the last 20-30 years. The report highlights the current state of knowledge of the mechanisms of action of different types of psychoactive substances, and explains how the use of these substances can lead to the development of dependence syndrome.
Though the focus is on brain mechanisms, the report nevertheless addresses the social and environmental factors which influence substance use and dependence. It also deals with neuroscience aspects of interventions and, in particular, the ethical implications of new biological intervention strategies. The various health and social problems associated with use of and dependence on tobacco, alcohol and illicit substances require greater attention by the public health community and appropriate policy responses are needed to address these problems in different societies. Many gaps remain to be filled in our understanding of the issues related to substance use and dependence but this report shows that we already know a great deal about the nature of these problems that can be used to shape policy responses. This is an important report and I recommend it to a wide audience of health care professionals, policy makers, scientists and students.
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