Nearly 3 million annual deaths due to alcohol and drug use globally: WHO

Around 400 million people, aged 15 years and older, live with alcohol use disorders, while around 209 million live with alcohol dependence.
According to WHO, the highest alcohol-related deaths are reported from low-income countries.
According to WHO, the highest alcohol-related deaths are reported from low-income countries.File Photo

NEW DELHI: As many as 2.6 million deaths per year globally are attributable to alcohol consumption, accounting for 4.7% of all deaths in 2019, according to the latest report by the WHO.

The World Health Organisation's global status report on alcohol and health and treatment of substance use disorders said that the alcohol-attributable disease burden is heaviest among males - two million alcohol-attributable deaths and 6.9% of all disability-adjusted life year (DALY) among males and 0.6 million deaths and 2.0% of all DALYs among females in 2019.

The report said that globally, an estimated 400 million people, or 7% of the world's population aged 15 years and older, live with alcohol use disorders, and an estimated 209 million (3.7% of the adult world population) live with alcohol dependence.

It highlighted that the highest proportion, or 13%, of alcohol-attributable deaths in 2019 were among young people aged 20-39 years.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted global alcohol consumption, it said there was an estimated 10% relative reduction from 2019 to 2020 but with different, and sometimes opposite, impacts in other countries and population groups.

In India, the report said that alcohol consumption increased until the COVID-19 pandemic began. "In the South-East Asia Region, with India as the largest country, levels of alcohol consumption increased steadily until the COVID-19 pandemic began due to economic growth coupled with a fractured response to control policies," the report said.

It said that in 2019, 17% of people aged 15+ years and 38% of current drinkers engaged in heavy episodic drinking or "binge drinking" - consuming at least 60g of pure alcohol on one or more occasions in the last month - while continuous heavy drinking was highly prevalent (6.7%) among men.

According to WHO, the highest alcohol-related deaths are reported from low-income countries.
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The level of alcohol consumption per capita among drinkers amounts on average to 27 grams of pure alcohol per day, which is associated with appreciably increased risks of numerous health conditions and related mortality and disability.

The death rates due to alcohol consumption per litre of alcohol consumed are highest in low-income countries and lowest in high-income countries.

"In 2019, the prevalence of alcohol consumption among 15-19-year-olds was unacceptably high worldwide (22%) with minimal gender differences," the report added. 

Of all deaths attributable to alcohol in 2019, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were from non-communicable diseases, including 4,74,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 4,01,000 from cancer.

Also, it said that as many as 7,24,000 deaths were due to injuries, such as those from traffic crashes, self-harm, and interpersonal violence, while 2,84,000 deaths were linked to infectious diseases.

It also said that alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of HIV transmission resulting from an increased risk of unprotected sex.

According to WHO, the highest alcohol-related deaths are reported from low-income countries.
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Unrecorded alcohol consumption made up 21% of overall consumption worldwide, and the report said that the wealthier a country or region, the higher the level of consumption and the lower the proportion of unrecorded consumption.

"Substance use severely harms individual health, increasing the risk of chronic disease and mental health conditions, and tragically resulting in millions of preventable deaths every year. It places a heavy burden on families and communities, increasing exposure to accidents, injuries and violence," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

He further said that to "build a healthier, more equitable society, we must urgently commit to bold actions that reduce the adverse health and social consequences of alcohol consumption and make treatment for substance use disorders accessible and affordable."

The report provides a comprehensive update based on 2019 data on the public health impact of alcohol and drug use and the situation with alcohol consumption and treatment of substance use disorders worldwide.

The highest levels of alcohol-attributable deaths per 100,000 persons are observed in the WHO African and European regions.

It highlighted the urgent need to accelerate actions globally towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.5 by 2030 by reducing alcohol and drug consumption and improving access to quality treatment for substance use disorders.

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