Toolkit for Assessing the Unrecorded Alcohol Market

What is the size and composition of the unrecorded market?

desk research approaches

Extrapolating from Alcohol-Related Harm

Using alcohol-related harm as a proxy measure for total consumption serves as the foundation for another approach to estimating total unrecorded consumption. Various harms ― including alcohol-related mortality, violent crime, arrests for alcohol-impaired driving, and suicide ― have been used in different countries to estimate unrecorded consumption. This approach compares estimates of the expected alcohol-related harm based on recorded consumption with the actual observed level of alcohol-related harm. The difference between these estimates is used to represent the harms resulting from unrecorded alcohol consumption, which is then used to estimate the quantity of unrecorded consumption (see Illustrative Example C.).

Illustrative Example C.

 Using data on alcohol-related harms to estimate unrecorded consumption has several limitations. First, it relies heavily on a number of assumptions, particularly that alcohol-related harms are invariably related to average levels of consumption over time and across alcohol types. This ignores the role of drinking patterns (e.g., prevalence of heavy episodic drinking) within overall alcohol consumption in observed changes in the incidence of alcohol-related harms.It also fails to account for changes in policy, treatment, diagnosis, and reporting practices that may influence the proxy harms indicators but not actual consumption. Also problematic is evidence that certain types of unrecorded alcohol may be more dangerous to health than recorded products and other unrecorded products. Thus, the gap observed between expected and actual harm may reflect:

  • drinking patterns;
  • healthcare policy and practices;
  • the size of the unrecorded market and / or the safety of its products; or, most likely,
  • some combination of the above factors.

The inability of this approach to differentiate among these factors introduces considerable uncertainty into the resulting estimates. On the other hand, where no evidence exists of substantial changes in drinking patterns, healthcare policy and practices, and the safety of products on the unrecorded market, this approach may prove adequate ― if not ideal ― for estimating changes in the unrecorded market over time, rather than its absolute size.