Study: Alcohol Deaths and Related Disorders Increase Globally

Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have found that the proportion of alcohol-related deaths has increased since 2000 by 0.6 percent, with 3.8 percent of all global deaths in 2004 related to alcohol use — an increase that the researchers attributed mainly to the number of women now drinking. 

The researchers also found that the deaths attributable to alcohol varied regionally. Europe had the highest proportion, with 1 in 10 deaths directly attributable to alcohol (including up to 15 percent in the former Soviet Union), while the eastern Mediterranean region had the fewest alcohol-related deaths, with a rate of 1.1 per 10,000 population. 

The study authors looked at diseases or disorders that are either wholly attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease, or where alcohol is a contributory cause, such as various cancers, heart disease, and stroke. The latter category also included accidents, injuries, falls, and drownings. Taken together, these diseases and disorders constitute the burden of disease attributable to alcohol.

The researchers found that globally, 7.6 percent of men were afflicted by diseases or disorders attributable to alcohol, as were 1.4 percent of women. The study said that younger people (ages 15-59) bore the higher proportion of the disease burden — 10 percent for men and 2-3 percent for women. As with alcohol-related deaths, there was considerable geographic variation: Europe had the highest disease burden — 11 percent — and the eastern Mediterranean the lowest at 0.3 percent. 

Patterns of consumption reflected mortality and the burden of disease. In Europe, consumption in the adult population was three 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. Worldwide, 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).

The researchers pointed out that the economic burden of alcohol use to countries was also considerable, ranging from $358 per capita in Scotland to $837 per capita in the U.S. All countries spent more than 1 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on dealing with the consequences of alcohol consumption. The highest expenditure among the high-income countries was the U.S., at 2.7 percent of GDP.

The world is faced with an increasing burden of disease attributable to alcohol, but lead author Juen Rehm noted, “We know more than ever about which strategies can effectively and cost-effectively control alcohol-related harms.”

The study appears in the June 2009 issue of The Lancet.

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