Alcohol

19 June 2014

Key facts

  • Worldwide, 3.3 million people die every year due to harmful use of alcohol; this represents 5.9 % of all deaths.
  • Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the 20–39 age group, approximately 25% of total deaths are alcohol-attributable.
  • There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and more than 200 disease and injury conditions, including mental and behavioural disorders, noncommunicable diseases as well as unintentional and intentional injuries resulting from violence, road crashes and suicides.
  • Causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.
  • Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol also brings significant social and economic losses to individuals other than the drinker and society at large.

Alcohol-related harm in the Western Pacific Region

  • In 2012, 6.6 % of the burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
  • Approximately one in every 20 deaths is caused by alcohol consumption.
  • In 2010, 6.8 litres of pure alcohol was consumed per person aged 15 years or older. More than 30% of this consumption was of unrecorded alcohol, i.e. homemade or illegally produced/sold alcohol.
  • The Western Pacific, along with Europe and the Americas, has the highest rates of adolescent heavy drinking.
  • Heavy episodic drinking is more prevalent among adolescents than among the total population aged 15 years or older.
  • Between 2005 and 2010 in the Western Pacific Region, total alcohol per capita consumption increased while the prevalence of current drinkers decreased.
  • Per capita alcohol consumption is expected to grow in the Western Pacific Region to 2025.

Ways to reduce the burden from harmful use of alcohol

  • Regulate the marketing of alcoholic beverages (in particular to younger people)
  • Regulate and restrict availability of alcohol
  • Enact appropriate drink-driving policies
  • Reduce demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms
  • Raise awareness and support for policies
  • Provide accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders
  • Implement screening programmes and brief interventions for hazardous and harmful use of alcohol.

WHO response

  • In 2010, the World Health Assembly approved a resolution endorsing a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The resolution urged countries to strengthen national responses to public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol.
  • The global strategy represents a collective commitment by WHO Member States to sustained action to reduce the global burden of disease caused by harmful use of alcohol.
  • The strategy includes evidence-based policies and interventions that can protect health and save lives if adopted, implemented and enforced.
  • The strategy also contains a set of principles that should guide the development and implementation of policies. It sets priority areas for global action, recommends target areas for national action and gives a strong mandate to WHO to step up action at all levels.
  • The policy options and interventions available for national action can be grouped into 10 recommended target areas, which are mutually supportive and complementary. These target areas are:
    • leadership, awareness and commitment;
    • health services’ response;
    • community action;
    • drink-driving policies and countermeasures;
    • availability of alcohol;
    • marketing of alcoholic beverages;
    • pricing policies;
    • reducing the negative consequences of drinking and alcohol intoxication;
    • reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol;
    • monitoring and surveillance.
  • Successful implementation of the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol will require concerted action by countries, effective global governance and appropriate engagement of all relevant stakeholders. By effectively working together, the negative health and social consequences of alcohol can be reduced.
  • The Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH) has been developed by WHO to dynamically present data on levels and patterns of alcohol consumption, alcohol-attributable health and social consequences and policy responses at all levels. http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/activities/gisah/en/
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