Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties that has been widely used in many cultures for centuries. The harmful use of alcohol causes a large disease, social and economic burden in societies.
Alcohol impacts people and societies in many ways and it is determined by the volume of alcohol consumed, the pattern of drinking, and, on rare occasions, the quality of alcohol consumed. In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 % of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption.
The harmful use of alcohol can also result in harm to other people, such as family members, friends, co-workers and strangers. Moreover, the harmful use of alcohol results in a significant health, social and economic burden on society at large.
Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road clashes and collisions.
A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to alcohol consumption arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic crashes, violence, and suicides, and fatal alcohol-related injuries tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.
The latest causal relationships are those between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS. Alcohol consumption by an expectant mother may cause fetal alcohol syndrome and pre-term birth complications.
Ways to reduce the burden from harmful use of alcohol
The health, safety and socioeconomic problems attributable to alcohol can be effectively reduced and requires actions on the levels, patterns and contexts of alcohol consumption and the wider social determinants of health.
Countries have a responsibility for formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Substantial scientific knowledge exists for policy-makers on the effectiveness and cost–effectiveness of the following strategies:
regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages (in particular to younger people);
regulating and restricting availability of alcohol;
enacting appropriate drink-driving policies;
reducing demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms;
raising awareness of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol and ensuring support for effective alcohol policies;
providing accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders; and
implementing screening and brief interventions programmes for hazardous and harmful drinking in health services.