Alcohol Causes Over Five Percent of Deaths Worldwide

Alcohol Causes Over Five Percent of Deaths Worldwide

A study from the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that more than 3 million people died in 2016 as a result of the harmful use of alcohol. It is one in every 20 people, or 5 percent, of the 60 million deaths worldwide from all causes. It is 6 people dying every minute of every day, around the clock, all year long.

A breakdown of alcohol-related deaths finds that 28 percent are due to intentional and unintentional injuries, from causes such as traffic accidents, suicide and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent is from digestive disorders, and 19 percent from cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Also cited are various cancers, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, a host of mental disorders and numerous other health issues.

In fact, the WHO report says that harmful alcohol use is "a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions."

The report, Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health is published every four years. It provides details about the effects that alcohol consumption is having on the global population, and a look at how various countries are trying to deal with it.

"Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. "It's time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies."

Dr. Tedros is an Ethiopian politician, academic, and public-health authority who has been the WHO's director general since 2017.

Disturbing statistics

Harmful use of alcohol causes:

  • 100% of alcohol use disorders
  • 48% of liver cirrhosis
  • 27% of traffic injuries
  • 26% of mouth cancers
  • 26% of pancreatitis
  • 20% of tuberculosis
  • 18% of suicides
  • 18% of interpersonal violence
  • 13% of epilepsy
  • 11% of colorectal cancer
  • 7% of hypertensive heart disease
  • 5% of breast cancer
Alcohol use disorders and alcohol-related illness and death are far higher among males than females. An estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol-use disorders, with most in the European region (14.8 percent and 3.5 percent) and the Americas (11.5 percent and 5.1 percent). Roughly 2.3 million of the 3 million alcohol-related deaths worldwide are among men.

Globally, 13.5 percent of all deaths among people in the 20-to-39 age group are linked to alcohol. This astonishing statistic may be rooted in the fact that 27 percent of kids aged 15-to-19 are already regular drinkers. Many carry those dangerous behaviors into their 20s and 30s, with drastic results.

In some regions, current drinking among 15-to-19-year-olds is far above the 13.5 percent world average. In Europe, for example, it's at 44 percent, and in the Americas and Western Pacific, it's at 38 percent. In many countries, alcohol use starts before the age of 15, and with little difference between boys and girls.

The study also found this interesting fact: Although alcohol-use disorders are more common in high-income countries, the negative effects – social problems, illness and death – are worse among those with lower incomes.

In addition to all the negative health effects already mentioned, causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and the incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Harmful alcohol use also brings "significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large."

What can be done?

"All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol," said Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, Coordinator of WHO's Management of Substance Abuse unit. He cites "proven, cost-effective actions" such as increased taxes on alcoholic drinks, restrictions on advertising and "restricting the physical availability of alcohol."

Most countries restrict at least some advertising, such as bans for ads on TV and radio, but less on social media. Most countries also employ excise taxes, but less than half ban below-cost selling or volume discounts.

"We would like to see Member States implement creative solutions that will save lives, such as taxing alcohol and restricting advertising," Dr. Tedros said. "We must do more to cut demand and reach the target set by governments of a 10 percent relative reduction in consumption of alcohol globally between 2010 and 2025."

It's not all negative

Before we get too bent out of shape by all this scary news, you should know that there have been positive global trends in heavy episodic drinking since 2010, as well as a decline in alcohol-related deaths. In fact, more than half of the global population aged 15 years and over (57 percent or 3.1 billion people) actually abstained from drinking alcohol in the 12 months prior to the study.

Yes, we do have problems with substance use disorders here in the USA and around the world. But as governments and citizens increasingly step forward to address those problems, we are making progress.

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