Alcohol kills 3.3 million people worldwide each year, more than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined says the World Health Organisation (WHO). Calling on governments to do more to limit the damage, WHO warns alcohol consumption is on the rise in its Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.
Including drink driving, alcohol-induced violence, and diseases and disorders associated with alcohol, it is estimated one in 20 deaths globally is caused by drinking each year. “This actually translates into one death every 10 seconds,” Shekhar Saxena, who heads the WHO’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse department, told reporters in Geneva.
Dangerous alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and increase the risk of developing over 200 disorders such as liver cirrhosis and pneumonia. Countries where alcohol consumption has traditionally been low, such as China and India, are seeing a surge in drinking as their wealth grows.
Europe has the highest alcohol consumption per capita, though consumption rates have been stable for five years. Consumption has also remained stable in Africa and the Americas, but is rising in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions, according to WHO figures. China is expected to increase its average consumption by 1.5 litres of pure alcohol by 2025, reports Time.
According to the WHO report, every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. But less than half the population – 38.3 percent – drinks, so those who do drink on average 17 litres of pure alcohol a year.
“We found that worldwide about 16 percent of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking – often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ – which is the most harmful to health,” said Shekhar Saxena, director for mental health and substance abuse at the WHO.
Poorer people are generally more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol, he said, “They often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.”
Most deaths caused by alcohol, around a third, are due to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Accidents such as car crashes are the second highest cause of alcohol-related deaths, accounting for 17.1 percent of total deaths.
Some countries are already taking measures to tackle alcohol related illness and deaths. These include increasing taxes on alcohol, limiting the availability by raising the legal drinking age limit, and restricted the marketing of alcohol products.
More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” says Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. “The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol.”