WHO: Around 2.6 million people ‘killed’ by alcohol every year

26 June, 2024

The latest WHO report on alcohol and health shows that alcohol causes nearly one in 20 deaths worldwide each year.

Alcohol kills 2.6 million people every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today, a figure that remains “unacceptably high” despite a slight decline in recent years.

The latest WHO report on alcohol and health shows that alcohol causes nearly one in 20 deaths worldwide each year, including but not limited to road traffic accidents, violence and a range of diseases and disorders.According to the report, 2.6 million deaths were attributed to alcohol in 2019 – based on the latest available statistics – accounting for 4.7% of global deaths that year. Three quarters of these deaths were among men.

“Substance use seriously damages human health, increasing the risk of chronic diseases and mental illness, and leading to millions of deaths each year that could have been prevented,” WHO chief Tedros Andanom Gebrejesus said in a statement.

The highest proportion of deaths attributed to alcohol in 2019 was in the 20-39 age group, with 13% of deaths.

Alcohol causes a number of diseases, including cirrhosis of the liver and certain cancers.

Of the 2.6 million alcohol-related deaths in 2019, the report suggests that 1.6 million people died from non-communicable diseases, including 474,000 from cardiovascular disease and 401,000 from cancer; a further 724,000 deaths were from injuries, including road traffic accidents and self-inflicted injuries.

Alcohol abuse also makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS and pneumonia.

About 209 million people, or 3.7% of the world’s population, were dependent on alcohol in 2019.

Meanwhile, individual annual consumption fell slightly to 5.5 litres in 2019 from 5.7 litres nine years earlier, the report said, but consumption levels are unevenly distributed around the world.

Consumption is highest in Europe, with an average of 9.2 litres of alcohol per year, followed by the US with 7.5 litres. The lowest consumption is found in predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the report highlights. On average, a drinker will consume 27 grams of alcohol per day in 2019, according to the report. This is roughly equivalent to two glasses of wine, two beers or two shots of hard liquor.

“This level and frequency of consumption is associated with a higher risk of causing many diseases, as well as the mortality and disability associated with them,” the WHO warns.In 2019, 38% of regular drinkers admitted to engaging in episodes of high alcohol consumption, defined as drinking at least 60 grams of pure alcohol on one or more occasions in the previous month.

Worldwide, 23.5% of people aged 15-19 are considered regular drinkers.

However, this figure rises to over 45% for people of this age living in Europe and almost 44% for those living in the Americas.

Given the scale of the problem, WHO stresses the urgent need to improve access to quality treatment for substance use disorders.

In 2019, the proportion of people in contact with drug rehabilitation services ranged from less than 1% to a maximum of 35%, depending on the country surveyed. “Stigma, discrimination and misconceptions about the effectiveness of treatment contribute to these serious gaps in treatment availability,” said Vladimir Pozniak, Head of the Division of Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours at WHO.


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