Global Entertainment – The Dangerous Addictions

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In a recent article, I estimated that “entertainment” drugs were second only to drinking as the leading global entertainment industry. Included in the “entertainment” drug category were opium, cocaine, amphetamines (including Ecstacy), and cannabis/marijuana. Neither cigarettes nor heroin were included on grounds that the primary reason for their use is addiction and not entertainment.

But let us consider what drugs, addiction, and entertainment mean. I offer the following definitions:

  • A drug is a vehicle to alter the mind and/or physical body. It can be pleasurable, medicinal, or both.
  • An addiction is an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence.
  • Entertainment is any activity that provides a diversion or permits people to amuse themselves. “Amuse” connotes something pleasant.

Certainly, the purchase and continual use of an illegal drug qualifies as an addiction. Would it also qualify as entertainment? Does it permit people to amuse themselves/have a pleasant experience? To the addict, the answer is yes. Why else would he go to the trouble, expense, and sometimes  to purchase it?

I conclude that addictive drugs qualify as entertainment. Consequently, I have added a new category to my global entertainment industry – dangerous addictions. These are addictions that might harm you physically and/or mentally. They might kill you.

My criteria for dangerous addictions are:

  • Significant fatalities;
  • Significant spending;
  • Perception of being dangerous.

These definitions lead me to the following list of dangerous addictions:

  • Cigarettes;
  • Overeating;
  • Alcohol;
  • Illegal Drugs.

The only item on this list requiring an explanatory comment is Overeating. For most people, food is not addictive – “we eat to live” – just as for most people, alcohol is not addictive. But as I have documented in an earlier article, obesity has become a serious global health problem –

I do not include gambling on this list, even though I recently documented the importance of gambling as a global entertainment industry – see Even though the number of addictive gamblers is growing (the American Gaming Association reports that 1 percent of the US population is classified as pathological gamblers), very few fatalities result from the activity.

Consider first Table 1 that gives deaths resulting from addictions. Everyone knows that cigarettes kill. Medical research indicates that somewhere between one-third and one half of all smokers will die from smoking. The percentage will grow as increasingly, only people seriously addicted to nicotene will smoke.

Table 1. – Serious Addictions

Global Fatalities

Addiction Deaths
Cigarettes 5,400,000
Overeating/Obesity 2,500,000
Alcohol 1,900,000
Illegal Drugs 100,000

Source: World Health Organization,

International Obesity Task Force,

Deaths from overeating are more surprising. Overeating deaths occur for numerous reasons. Probably the most important is Diabetes. 3.2 million people die annually from Diabetes, and Diabetes develops primarily in overweight people.

It is striking how few deaths result from “Illegal Drugs”. Admittedly, there are at least 15.3 million persons who have “drug use disorders”. But deaths are low, which makes one wonder why the US government has spent more that $135 billion since 1996 world wide to get rid of them –

The amounts spent on the dangerous addiction/entertainment items are presented in Table 2. Leaving aside food (which is not included in the table), more is spent globally for alcohol than any other addiction. The total amount spent on illegal drugs exceeds that spent on cigarettes. The table also lists expenditures on each illegal drug.

Table 2. – Addiction Expenditures, 2008

Addiction (bil. US$)
Alcohol 1,163.0
Cigarettes 550.4
Illegal Drugs (total) 873.5
Cannabis 354.0
Opium 261.8
Heroin 102.9
Cocaine 122.0
Amphetamines 19.0
Ecstasy 13.8

Source: UNODC World Drug Reports, 2008, 2009;

Euromonitor International

Table 3 presents data on prevalence and addiction rates. The prevalence rate indicates who uses the product – for example, for Overeating/Obesity, the addictive product is food, and so the prevalence of use rate is 100%. The International Obesity Task force estimates that 8.6% of the global population is addicted (overweight or obese). While 90% of the global adult population drink, only 1.5% have an alcohol addiction problem. I assume that anyone who smokes or uses an illegal drug is addicted.

Table 3. – Dangerous Addictions

Prevalence and Addiction Rates

Prevalence of Use AddictionRate
Addiction (%) (%)
Overeating/Obesity 100.0% 8.6%
Alcohol 90.0% 1.5%
Cigarettes 26.5% 26.5%
Cannabis 3.8% 3.8%
Amphetamines 0.8% 0.8%
Heroin 0.5% 0.5%
Opium 0.4% 0.4%
Cocaine 0.4% 0.4%
Ecstasy 0.4% 0.4%

Source: UNODC World Drug Reports, 2008, 2009;

Euromonitor International

Government Policies

It is interesting to reflect on government policies towards these dangerous addictions. Cigarettes, by far the most dangerous of the addictions, are legal and readily available for purchase. However, in OECD nations, they are heavily taxed, there are severe limitations on where you can smoke, danger to health notices must be printed on every package, and major anti-smoking campaigns are ongoing. And while smoking is slowly declining in the OECD nations, it continues to grow in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Overeating as an addiction is just beginning to be noticed. It was just a year ago that the UN conceded that there were more obese children in developing countries than undernourished children. Major educational campaigns are being launched, e.g., see promoting better eating habits and exercise. And while the medical costs of overweight people will soon dwarf all others, punitive actions are not being considered.

Alcohol is a more complex issue. There are numerous studies indicating that alcohol consumed in moderation has positive health consequences. At one point in US history, alcohol was banned (1919-1933), but “The Noble Experiment” did not work. It did not work because the demand was still there and it was satisfied by “criminal” producers and distributors.

Illegal drugs are interesting. They fit perfectly the profile of what happens when a product for which there is a significant demand is made illegal. The product is still supplied but by a criminal element making tremendous profits. Table 4 provides data on what the US Government has done since 1996 to eradicate illegal drugs.

Table 4. – US Federal Government Anti-Drug

Expenditures (in mil. US$)

Year Amount
1996 6,274
1997 7,222
1998 7,476
1999 9,031
2000 9,937
2001 9,467
2002 10,781
2003 11,220
2004 12,006
2005 12,784
2006 13,144
2007 13,844
2008 13,655
Total 136,841

Source: US Congressional Research Service

Has any of this worked? Not really. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports there are vibrant markets throughout the world for cannabis, opium, heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines. Statistics from the US Office of National Drug Control Policy show that drug production has increased and prices in the US have fallen since the US has begun spraying herbicides on the coca crops in Latin America.

In an earlier life, I was a principal in a large contractor to the US Foreign Assistance Program (USAID). We regularly had contracts in Afghanistan “to find alternative crops” for the poppy growers. We tried all sorts of things – asparagus and flowers for the European market: nothing worked. Nothing could compare to the profit that farmers could make from growing poppies.

It is no different today in Afghanistan. If drug eradication is a key component to “winning the hearts and minds of farmers in Afghanistan, forget it (for more on Afghanistan, see

My Policy Prescriptions? I like what is being done in Western nations to reduce cigarette smoking: high taxes, warnings on cigarette packages, and massive education campaigns. Illegal drugs? All that does is generate tremendous profits for illegal producers and suppliers.

Ultimately, we all dig our own graves.

The content above was saved on the old Morss Global Finance website, just in case anyone was looking for it (with the help of
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