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WHO: Alcohol Responsible for 2.6 Million Deaths Annually

WHO Reports Alcohol-Related Deaths at 2.6 Million Annually

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that alcohol consumption is responsible for nearly three million deaths each year, with the death rate remaining “unacceptably high” despite a slight decrease in recent years.

According to the latest WHO report on alcohol and health, alcohol is a factor in nearly one in 20 deaths globally each year, resulting from drunk driving, alcohol-related violence, and a range of diseases and disorders. The report cites 2.6 million deaths attributed to alcohol consumption in 2019, which accounts for 4.7% of all deaths worldwide that year. Notably, nearly three-quarters of these deaths occurred in men.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the severe impact of substance use on individual health, noting the increased risk of chronic diseases and mental health conditions. He acknowledged some progress, mentioning a reduction in alcohol consumption and related harm worldwide since 2010, but stressed that the overall health and social burden due to alcohol remains high, particularly among younger people.

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In 2019, the highest proportion of alcohol-attributable deaths, 13%, occurred among individuals aged 20 to 39. Alcohol is linked to various health conditions, including liver cirrhosis and certain cancers. The report indicated that out of all alcohol-related fatalities in 2019, an estimated 1.6 million were due to noncommunicable diseases, including 474,000 from cardiovascular diseases, 401,000 from cancer, and 724,000 from injuries, such as traffic accidents and self-harm.

Additionally, alcohol abuse increases susceptibility to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV, and pneumonia. In 2019, about 209 million people, or 3.7% of the global population, were living with alcohol dependence.

The report also highlighted global patterns in alcohol consumption. Total per capita consumption worldwide slightly decreased to 5.5 liters of alcohol in 2019 from 5.7 liters in 2010. However, alcohol consumption is unevenly distributed globally, with over half of the world’s population over age 15 abstaining completely. Europe recorded the highest levels of per capita drinking at 9.2 liters, followed by the Americas at 7.5 liters. The lowest consumption rates were found in predominantly Muslim countries in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Among those who drank alcohol in 2019, the average consumption was 27 grams of pure alcohol per day, roughly equivalent to two glasses of wine, two small bottles of beer, or two shots of spirits. This level and frequency of drinking is associated with increased risks of numerous health conditions, including mortality and disability. In 2019, 38% of current drinkers reported heavy episodic drinking, defined as consuming at least 60 grams of pure alcohol on one or more occasions in the preceding month.

The report also noted that 23.5% of 15- to 19-year-olds were current drinkers in 2019, with this figure rising to over 45% in Europe and nearly 44% in the Americas. WHO stressed the importance of improving access to quality treatment for substance use disorders. In 2019, the proportion of people seeking treatment for such disorders ranged from below 1% to 35% in countries providing this data. Vladimir Poznyak, head of WHO’s unit for alcohol, drugs, and addictive behaviors, highlighted the role of stigma, discrimination, and misconceptions about treatment efficacy in these critical gaps in treatment provision.

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