How the 1977 World Health Organization report on alcohol-related disabilities came to be written: a provisional analysis

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BackgroundIn 1977 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report entitled ‘Alcohol-Related Disabilities’. The crucial contribution of this report was to differentiate between alcohol dependence, on one hand, and alcohol-related disabilities (or problems) on the other hand. Essentially, it offered a bi-axial mapping of the field of concern.AimsThis paper seeks to identify the multiple influences which shaped the evolution of this report.MethodsUse is made of unpublished archival material and recall of personal involvement, together with relevant published material.ResultsThree major influences made it possible to move beyond the confines of previous WHO thinking on alcohol: the multi-disciplinary nature of the input; the internationality of the enterprise; and the expectations set that the concepts developed should speak to the practical world.ConclusionsThe arena of drug and alcohol policy has, for more than a century, been rich in its reports. This case study, although limited in its immediate content, points to the need for further analysis of the history of such reports.

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