China leads the world in alcohol-related deaths among men and women, estimated a Lancet report on alcohol-attributable deaths. This toll came to 650,000 male deaths and 59,000 alcohol-related female deaths in 2017 alone.

Unfortunately, alcohol consumption has become more prevalent in China since then. There's also a suspicion that the true extent of this epidemic isn't well-known because the issue of "problem drinking" hasn't been extensively studied.

Researchers from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Peking University in Beijing and the Peking Union Medical College (which merged with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences) led a large collaborative study of more than 500,000 Chinese men and women who are 30 to 79 years old from 10 rural and urban areas in China to look into problem drinking.

This new and deep study of Chinese adults, which was published in the scientific journal Addiction, found 8 percent of men in China are problem drinkers. It also found problem drinking more prevalent among poor men that live in rural areas.

"In China, the patterns of drinking differ from Western populations," Pek Kei Im, study co-author from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, said. "Our study shows that problem drinking is fairly common among Chinese men, particularly among more disadvantaged groups."

The study found problem drinking is associated with significantly increased risk of physical and mental health problems -- and premature death. A third of men in the study drank alcohol regularly and one in four of these men experienced at least one indicator of problem drinking. The study defined problem drinking as involving one or more of the following indicators over the past month: drinking in the morning, being unable to work or to do anything due to drinking, negative emotions after drinking, being unable to avoid drinking, or having the shakes when stopping drinking.

The study shows that compared with low-risk drinkers, men with problem drinking have poorer self-reported health, poorer life satisfaction, more sleep problems and a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Men with two or more problem drinking indicators have a two-fold higher risk for all-cause mortality and a 15 percent higher risk for hospitalization compared to low-risk drinkers.

"This large collaborative study has shown that drinking alcohol can result in significant adverse consequences, for both mental and physical health and wellbeing," Prof. Zhengming Chen, co-author from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, noted.

Another co-author, Dr. Iona Millwood from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, pointed out drinking has been on the rise in China since the 1980s. Becauseof this, China is now "looking at a significant national health problem that is beginning to resemble those in Western countries. Knowing the scale of the problem, and the fact that it's more intense in rural and poorer areas, can help to inform policy decisions to improve health outcomes in China."

Getting Drunk
Drinking to the point of excess isn't healthy, but there are a few steps to limiting damage. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain