Key takeaways:

  • Mortality resulting from alcohol consumption is higher than that caused by diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. 

  • Among men in 2016, an estimated 2.3 million deaths and 106.5 million DALYs were attributable to the consumption of alcohol. 

  • In 2016 the alcohol-attributable disease burden was highest in low-income and lower-middle-income countries when compared to upper-middle-income and high-income countries.

In 2018, The World Health Organization (WHO) released its most recent Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health. The report aims to highlight the global risks that alcohol poses and to highlight preventative measures that can reduce harmful alcohol interactions.

The global effect of alcohol abuse

The effects of alcohol abuse around the world have led to issues that compromise individual and social development. Alcohol abuse and addiction cause harm to not only the individual but all those around them, stemming further than family and friends and into the socio-economic infrastructure. For example, alcohol consumption has direct links to risky sexual activity which puts countries with higher rates of HIV and AIDS in a vulnerable position; with the greater cost of treatment and danger to public health both being considerable factors. [1]

The WHO has set Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in many countries around the world, with reducing alcohol-related issues as one of their primary objectives. In the introduction to the report, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated:

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to provide a more equitable and sustainable future for all people by 2030, ensuring that no one is left behind. While the agenda’s goals have health targets on substance abuse and addressing noncommunicable diseases, reducing alcohol-related harm also increases the chances of reaching other targets.” [1]

Here are some of the harmful impacts of alcohol abuse that are highlighted in the report [1].

  • In 2016, the harmful use of alcohol resulted in some 3 million deaths (5.3% of all deaths) worldwide and 132.6 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – i.e. 5.1% of all DALYs in that year. 

  • Mortality resulting from alcohol consumption is higher than that caused by diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. 

  • Among men in 2016, an estimated 2.3 million deaths and 106.5 million DALYs were attributable to the consumption of alcohol. 

  • Women experienced 0.7 million deaths and 26.1 million DALYs attributable to alcohol consumption.

  • The proportions of all deaths and DALYs attributable to alcohol consumption were highest in the WHO European Region (10.1% of all deaths and 10.8% of all DALYs) followed by the Region of the Americas (5.5% of deaths and 6.7% of DALYs).

  • In 2016, of all deaths attributable to alcohol consumption worldwide, 28.7% were due to injuries, 21.3% due to digestive diseases, 19% due to cardiovascular diseases, 12.9% due to infectious diseases and 12.6% due to cancers. 

  • About 49% of alcohol-attributable DALYs are due to non-communicable and mental health conditions, and about 40% are due to injuries.

  • Worldwide, alcohol was responsible for 7.2% of all premature (among persons 69 years of age and younger) mortality in 2016. People of younger ages were disproportionately affected by alcohol compared to older persons, and 13.5% of all deaths among those who are 20–39 years of age are attributed to alcohol.

  • Alcohol caused an estimated 0.4 million of the 11 million deaths globally in 2016 which resulted from communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions, representing 3.5% of these deaths.

  • Harmful use of alcohol caused some 1.7 million deaths from noncommunicable diseases in 2016, including some 1.2 million deaths from digestive and cardiovascular diseases (0.6 million for each condition) and 0.4 million deaths from cancers. 

  • Globally an estimated 0.9 million injury deaths were attributable to alcohol, including around 370 000 deaths due to road injuries, 150 000 due to self-harm and around 90 000 due to interpersonal violence. Of the road traffic injuries, 187 000 alcohol-attributable deaths were among people other than drivers.

  • In 2016 the leading contributors to the burden of alcohol-attributable deaths and DALYs among men were injuries, digestive diseases and alcohol use disorders, whereas among women the leading contributors were cardiovascular diseases, digestive diseases and injuries. 

  • There are significant gender differences in the past 12-month prevalence of alcohol use disorders. Globally an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women have alcohol use disorders, with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders among men and women in the European Region (14.8% and 3.5%) and the Region of Americas (11.5% and 5.1%). Alcohol use disorders are more prevalent in high-income countries.

  • In 2016 the alcohol-attributable disease burden was highest in low-income and lower-middle-income countries when compared to upper-middle-income and high-income countries.

  • The proportion of alcohol-attributable deaths in total deaths decreased slightly between 2010 (5.6%) and 2016 (5.3%), but the proportion of alcohol-attributable DALYs remained relatively stable (5.1% of all DALYs in 2010 and 2016).

You can find out more about the WHOs Sustainable Development Goals and read the full Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health here.