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Research Summary

Cost-Effectiveness of Current and Optimal Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders

Although cost-effectiveness methodology can help determine the efficiency of health care interventions and inform resource allocation decisions, it is rarely applied to the study of alcohol use disorders. Researchers used Australian survey data and simulation models to estimate the cost-effectiveness (dollars needed to avert a year lived with disability, YLD) of treating harmful alcohol use and alcohol dependence under certain conditions:

  • current treatment and current coverage (the proportion of cases who actually received treatment)
  • optimal treatment (assumes patients received evidence-based care only) and current coverage
  • optimal treatment and optimal coverage (assumes 70% of cases received treatment for harmful alcohol use and 30% for alcohol dependence)

Burden of Alcohol Use (YLDs) Averted Estimated Average
Cost of Treating
Harmful Alcohol Use
per YLD Averted*
Estimated Average
Cost of Treating
Alcohol Dependence
per YLD Averted*
Current treatment and coverage
2% $72,038 $72,993
Optimal treatment and current coverage
5% $6,593 $42,817
Optimal treatment and optimal coverage
11% $10,250 $39,886
*For purposes of this summary, 1997 Australian dollars were converted to 1997 US dollars using historical exchange rates.


This study found that optimal evidence-based treatment for alcohol use disorders, compared with current treatment, is efficient (i.e., lower cost to avoid a YLD) at both current and optimal coverage levels. In defining cost-effectiveness, researchers used the perspective of the payer and only considered direct treatment costs. Because alcohol problems affect the whole of society and not just the individual drinker, an analysis from the societal perspective could show greater effectiveness (e.g., more YLDs averted) and perhaps even greater cost savings.

Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc


Andrews G, Issakidis C, Sanderson K, et al. Utilising survey data to inform public policy: comparison of the cost-effectiveness of treatment of ten mental disorders. Br J Psychiatry. 2004;184 526–533.