The Grapevine

Alcohol Abuse Caused 5% Of Deaths Globally, WHO Report Finds

Drinking too much alcohol led to the deaths of three million people around the world in 2016, a new report found. This figure meant that excessive drinking was responsible for more than 5 percent of all global deaths.

The Global status report on alcohol and health 2018 was published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sept. 21.

More than a quarter of the deaths occurred as a result of injuries, making it the leading cause of death. This was followed by 21 percent of deaths due to digestive disorders and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases. The rest of the list included infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders, etc.

The findings also identified key demographics on the basis of gender, age, nationality, and more. Over 75 percent of the deaths comprised of male drinkers, making them a clear majority. Overall, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women around the world faced alcohol-related disorders.

The deaths were concentrated around younger age groups as more than 13 percent of deaths involved people in their 20s. The authors also noted that heavy episodic drinking is very high among younger drinkers i.e. those who are adolescents (15–19 years) and those who are young adults (20−24 years). 

"Alcohol use starts in many countries well before [age] 15, so that is why we can say that our estimates are quite conservative because we don’t count at all the impact of alcohol consumption on kids below 15," added Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a WHO alcohol-control expert.

In terms of location, the European region saw the highest prevalence of alcohol-related health problems with 14.8 percent of men and 3.5 percent of women being affected. Though the rates of alcohol consumption in Europe have fallen in recent years, it still remains the heaviest-drinking region in the world.

Last month, a major study made headlines after suggesting that no amount of alcohol can be considered "safe" for consumption. Researchers said the overall risks outweigh any associated benefits, arriving at the finding after analyzing large sources of data on 195 countries and territories.

"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 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO. "It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies."

While an overwhelming majority (95 percent) of countries impose taxes on alcohol, Dr. Poznyak recommended that governments should take more steps to reduce harmful use. He offered examples like increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, implementing bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, restricting the physical availability of alcohol, and more.