New research shows that alcohol is now the third leading cause of the global burden of disease and injury — this even though most adults worldwide abstain from drinking.
Researchers discovered the relationship while preparing the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study, a report published in the journal Addiction.
“Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries,” said Kevin Shield, doctoral student and lead author of the study. “These include not only well-known outcomes of drinking such as liver cirrhosis or traffic accidents, but also several types of cancer, such as female breast cancer.”
The study reports the amount and patterns of alcohol consumption by country for 2005, and calculates estimates for these figures for 2010.
Investigators discovered significant differences by geographical region in the numbers of people who consume alcohol, the amount they drink and general patterns of drinking. Some other findings:
- Drinkers in Europe and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are the world’s heaviest consumers of alcohol, on average;
- People in Eastern Europe and Southern Sub-Saharan Africa consumed alcohol in the unhealthiest manner, as they frequently consumed large quantities, drank to intoxication, engaged in prolonged binges, and consumed alcohol mainly outside of meals;
- People in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia consumed the least amount of alcohol;
- North Americans in general and Canadians in particular drink more than 50 percent above the global average, and show a more detrimental drinking pattern than most EU countries, with more binging.
Experts say the global burden of disease and injury attributable to alcohol is large and growing.
In 2010, alcohol was responsible for 5.5 percent of this overall burden, third after high blood pressure and tobacco smoking — among 67 risk factors overall.
The new research summarizes the results from population surveys, sales or production data, and data on alcohol consumption not covered in official records, from all countries, territories and regions.
A surprise finding what that almost 30 percent of alcohol consumed in 2005 was “unrecorded” alcohol — referring to alcohol not intended for consumption, home-brewed alcohol, and illegally produced alcohol.
In some regions, unrecorded alcohol constituted more than half of all alcohol consumed.
“The amount of unrecorded alcohol consumed is a particular problem, as its consumption is not impacted by public health alcohol policies, such as taxation, which can moderate consumption,” said Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D., a study author.
“Improving alcohol control policies presents one of the greatest opportunities to prevent much of the health burden caused by alcohol consumption,” said Shield.
“To improve these policies, information on how much alcohol people are consuming, and how people are consuming alcohol is necessary, and that is exactly the information this article presents.”