Despite alcohol’s beneficial effects for the body when taken in moderation, a new study claims that 1 in 25 deaths can be attributed to alcohol consumption.
This translates into approximately 4 percent of global deaths may be directly linked to alcohol. The recent rise in deaths attributed to alcohol are due to increases in the number of women drinking, claim the researchers.
Dr. Jürgen Rehm and his colleagues found that alcohol-attributable disorders are among the most disabling disease categories within the global burden of disease, especially for men.
In contrast to other traditional risk factors for disease, the burden attributable to alcohol lies more with younger people than with the older population.
“Today, we know more than ever about which strategies can effectively and cost-effectively control alcohol-related harms,” Dr. Rehm said today.
“Provided that our public policy makers act on these practical strategies expeditiously, we could see an enormous impact in reducing damage.”
The study showed that Europe had a high proportion of deaths related to alcohol, with 1 in 10 deaths directly attributable (up to 15% in the former Soviet Union). Average alcohol consumption in Europe in the adult population is somewhat higher than in North America: 13 standard drinks per person per week (1 standard drink = 13.6 grams of pure ethanol and corresponds to a can of beer, one glass or wine and one shot of spirits) compared to North America’s 10 to 11 standard drinks.
The recent Canadian consumption rate is equivalent of almost 9 standard drinks per person per week age 15 plus, and has been going up, as has high risk drinking. Globally, the average is around 7 standard drinks per person per week (despite the fact that most of the adult population worldwide actually abstains from drinking alcohol).
Most of the deaths caused by alcohol were through injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and liver cirrhosis.
“Overall, our analysis shows that alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for burden of disease,” the researchers said. A woman who has three drinks per day on average increases her risk of getting breast cancer by about 15 percent, said Rehm. “That means that (perhaps) only one in 20 cases of breast cancer is due to alcohol consumption. And that’s why the public ignores alcohol as a carcinogen.”
Light to moderate drinking may have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease, the researchers noted, “but this benefit is restricted to older people only.”
“Globally, the effect of alcohol on burden of disease is about the same size as that of smoking in 2000, but it is relatively greatest in emerging economies. Global consumption is increasing, especially in the most populous countries of India and China.”
However, the majority of the world’s population never drinks alcohol — 45% of men and 66% of women worldwide were reported in the study as abstainers.
Evidence-based policies that have been proven to reduce the harm of over-drinking include lowering the legal limit of blood alcohol content in vehicle drivers, better controls on access to alcohol through pricing interventions and outlet density restrictions, as well as more focused strategies such as violence reduction programs in licensed premises.
Within health care, provision of screening and brief interventions for high risk drinkers has enormous potential to reduce the contribution of alcohol to the onset of cancer and other chronic diseases.
“There are significant social, health and economic problems caused by alcohol,” said Gail Czukar, CAMH’s executive vice-president, Policy, Education and Health Promotion. “But research gives us sound, proven interventions that governments and health providers can use to address these problems.”
In an accompanying editorial, The Lancet‘s editors suggested that drinking is “one of the most pressing public health problems in the world.”
They added that measures such as stricter enforcement of drunk-driving laws, higher taxation, limiting alcohol availability, banning advertising, and providing help for hazardous drinking are known to reduce the harm associated with alcohol.
The study was published in this week’s Lancet.
Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health