Management of substance abuse

Innovative portals on alcohol and health in four countries

Innovative portals on alcohol and health with a web-based self-help intervention tool have been developed with the support by WHO in four pilot countries, Belarus, Brazil, India and Mexico. The portals were launched in 2012 and provides information not only for policymakers and professionals, but also for the public at large. They include a self-screening tool for hazardous and harmful use of alcohol and a fully computerized self-help programme for people who wish to reduce or stop drinking alcohol.

The WHO ASSIST package

The World Health Organization has launched the ASSIST package developed to help the health professionals to detect and manage hazardous and harmful use of psychoactive substances in health care settings.
This package also includes a guide developed to assist patients who are at risk because of their substance use to weigh up their substance use behavior and to change it using self-help strategies.

Resources for the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders

The global burden of disease attributable to alcohol and illicit drug use amounts to 5.4% of the total burden of disease. Effective interventions and strategies exist to prevent and treat substance use disorders. The Global Information System on Resources for the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders maps and monitors health system resources at the country level to respond to the health problems due to substance use. Data from 147 countries (88% of the world population), collected in 2008, show that the main location for treatment of substance use disorders is the specialist substance abuse system, followed by the mental health system, the general health system, and primary care.


fact buffet

Drug use

230 millionpeople, or 1 in 20 adults, are estimated to have used an illicit drug at least once in 2010.

World Drug Report 2012

Health services

1.7 bedsper 100 000 population are available for the treatment of alcohol and drug use disorders

Beds for the treatment of alcohol and drug use disorders

Pharmacological treatment

30%of countries have effective medication available

Availability of opioid agonist treatment

The Global Information System on Alcohol and Health

The Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH) provides easy and rapid access to a wide range of alcohol-related health indicators. It is an essential tool for assessing and monitoring the health situation and trends related to alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm, and policy responses in countries.

Recent highlights

  • June 2012

    WHO commences development of guidelines on substance use in pregnancy.

    Consumption of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and other psychoactive substances during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, impair the growth and development of the fetus and lead to life long problems in affected infants. The WHO guidelines will seek to prevent adverse health consequences of alcohol, tobacco, alcohol and other psychoactive substance use in pregnancy by assisting the identification and management of substance use in and around pregnancy. The guidelines are scheduled for completion in early 2014.

  • March 2012

    Responding to calls for guidance on improving the interaction between health and criminal justice system for drug related crime

    In response to a requests to develop further guidance on this issue, WHO, in collaboration with UNODC, is collecting examples of humane and effective collaboration between the criminal justice system and the health care system to facilitate effective drug treatment for people with drug use disorders who come before the criminal justice system. This document will supplement existing publications including a UNODC discussion paper published in 2010 entitled “From coercion to cohesion: Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment”, the WHO/UNODC discussion paper on the Principles of Drug Dependence Treatment, and the joint UN agency statement on compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. Please contact us at if you would like to suggest an example to be included in the manual.

  • 15 February 2012

    Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2012

    The Global Alcohol Policy Conference was held between 13-15 February 2012 at the Impact Conference Centre in Nonthaburi, Thailand. The conference was organized by the Thai Ministry of Public Health, with WHO, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation as co-hosts. The conference was attended by some 1120 participants from 59 countries. A broad range of stakeholders were present; government representatives, parliamentarians, NGOs, researchers, activists and representatives from the media.

  • Feb 2012

    ICD-11 working group on substance abuse and addictive behaviours update

    As part of the process of developing ICD-11, the substance abuse working group met on the 27-29 February 2012 in Geneva. The draft chapter on substance use and addictive behaviours is scheduled for release later this year, in the ICD-11 beta-version. The final ICD-11 version is scheduled for publication in 2015. Link:

  • 19 April 2011

    WHO Participation in the 54th Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs

    The fifty-fourth session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was held in Vienna 21-25 March 2011. A number of resolutions were discussed and adopted on issues regarding drugs and crime. The WHO actively participated in this CND annual session and its related events and discussions.

  • 11 March 2011

    UN, Pakistan join forces to protect health of people with drug dependence

    11 March, 2011 | Islamabad - To reduce the health and social impacts of drug dependence in Pakistan, the United Nations and Pakistani authorities have joined forces to ensure drug users have access to appropriate treatment and care.

  • 11 February 2011

    Action needed to reduce health impact of harmful alcohol use

    Wider implementation of policies is needed to save lives and reduce the health impact of harmful alcohol drinking, says a new report launched today by WHO. Harmful use of alcohol results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to many more, and increasingly affects younger generations and drinkers in developing countries.

  • 2 February 2011

    First WHO global counterparts meeting on alcohol

    In 2010 the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. A global network of WHO national counterparts is established to ensure effective collaboration and consultations with Member States on implementing the global strategy. The WHO Secretariat is hosting the first meeting of this global network in Geneva from 8 to 11 February. The aim of the meeting is to discuss and elaborate implementation mechanisms and plans for the strategy.

  • 13 December 2010

    ATLAS 2010: First global report on substance use disorders launched

    To better prevent and treat alcohol and illicit drug use disorders, the World Health Organization has launched the first global report on resources currently in use to respond to these health concerns. The Atlas on substance abuse: Resources for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders has collected information from 147 countries, representing 88% of the world's population. It has a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.

This web site contains information pertaining to psychoactive substance use and abuse, and also information about the World Health Organization's projects and activities in the areas of substance use and substance dependence.

WHO is the only agency dealing with all psychoactive substances, regardless of their legal status. WHO’s mandate in the area of psychoactive substance use includes:

  • Prevention and reduction of the negative health and social consequences of psychoactive substance use;
  • Reduction of the demand for non-medical use of psychoactive substances;
  • Assessment of psychoactive substances so as to advise the United Nations with regard to their regulatory control.

Since its founding in 1948, WHO has played a leading role in supporting countries to prevent and reduce the problems due to psychoactive substance use, and in recommending which psychoactive substances should be regulated. In 2000, the Department of Substance Abuse was merged with the Department of Mental Health to form the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, reflecting the many common approaches of management of mental health and substance use disorders.


WHO Resolutions Related to Substance Use

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WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence

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WHO Expert Committee on Problems Related to Alcohol Consumption

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UN International Drug Control Conventions

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UN Key Declarations

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