WHO reports: harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5% of the global disease burden

WHO reports harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5% of the global disease burden

More than three million people died because of damaging use of alcohol in 2016, according to a report released by WHO today. Overall, the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5% of the global disease burden.

The report paints a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and the global disease burden. With reportedly more than three million deaths occurring, three quarters of these deaths were among men.

Too many people suffer the consequences of alcohol misuse

Globally an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol use disorders. In addition, the disorders are more common in high-income countries.

WHO reports the following key facts

  • Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28% were due to injuries, such as those from traffic crashes, self-harm and interpersonal violence
  • 21% due to digestive disorders and
  • 19% due to cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder due to infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions.

Despite the positive global trends in the occurrence of heavy recurring drinking and number of alcohol-related deaths since 2010, the overall burden of disease and injuries caused by the harmful use of alcohol is unacceptably high, particularly in the European Region and the Americas.

“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.”

Massive predicted increase in alcohol consumption

The global consumption is predicted to increase in the next 10 years, with an estimated 2.3 billion people being current drinkers.

Worldwide, more than a quarter (27%) of all 15–19-year-olds are current drinkers. Rates of current drinking are highest among 15–19-year-olds in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas (38%) and the Western Pacific (38%). School surveys indicate that, in majority of countries, alcohol consumption starts before the age of 15 with very small differences between boys and girls.

Imminent action is required

Dr Vladimir Poznyak, co-ordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse Unit, said: “All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol.

“Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.”

Several health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could also be achieved once the harmful use of alcohol is reduced. This could include goals for maternal and child health, infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases and mental health, injuries and poisonings.

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