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Alcohol is responsible for more than 5% of all deaths worldwide, or around 3 million a year, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The data from 2016 show that more than three quarters of these deaths were among men, and that almost 29% of all alcohol-caused deaths were down to injuries – including traffic accidents, self-harm and violence.

The report, Global status report on alcohol and health 2018, comes out every 4 years, and reveals the continued impact of alcohol on public health around the world. It highlights that the young bear the brunt: 13.5% of deaths among people in their 20s are linked to booze, with alcohol responsible for 7.2% of premature deaths overall.

The report presents a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and the disease burden attributable to alcohol worldwide. It also describes what countries are doing to reduce this burden.

“Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies.”

Burden of alcohol unacceptably high

Globally an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol-use disorders with the highest prevalence among men and women in Europe (14.8% and 3.5%) and the Region of Americas (11.5% and 5.1%). Alcohol-use disorders are more common in high-income countries, says WHO. Consumption is predicted to increase in the next 10 years.

“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol”, said Dr Vladimir Poznyak, Coordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse unit. “Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.”

Worldwide, 27% of all 15–19-year-olds are current drinkers. Rates are highest among this group of youngsters in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas (38%) and the Western Pacific area (38%). School surveys indicate that, in many countries, alcohol use starts before the age of 15 with very small differences between boys and girls.

Alcohol testing kit

The WHO report reveals that in the UK the total alcohol consumed per person among drinkers over 15 years of age was 7.6 litres for women and 21.8 litres for men. Of more concern was the statistics that 13% of men and 4.7% of women in the UK were deemed to have alcohol-use disorders; the average for the European region was 8.8%.

This latest report follows on the heels of the The Lancet research, which stressed that the health risks associated with drinking are ‘massive’ and there is no safe level of alcohol use.

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