3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual global status report on alcohol and health. The report found that more than 3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol.
The report estimated that, globally, 237 million men and 46 million women are “problem drinkers”. That’s about 3 percent of the world’s population. Alcohol use disorder negatively impacts both the person who has it and the social ecosystem that surrounds them, including their family, community, friends, and place of work. The cost of alcohol use disorder is significant and must be addressed, said the WHO.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Vladimir Poznyak, of the WHO’s substance abuse unit. One in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking.
Men were not only more susceptible to alcohol use problems, but also negative outcomes from substance use. According to Reuters, “Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent [of deaths linked to alcohol use] were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents, self-harm and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.”
Many of the health conditions linked to alcohol use are treatable, reversible, and not fatal. However, without addressing the root issue—addiction—treatment for any of these conditions may not be enough to save a life. Because of its many coexisting health issues, untreated addiction can place an immense strain on healthcare systems. This is especially true in the United States, where alcohol use is the third leading cause of death, after tobacco use and poor diet. According to a report published in 2008 by SAMHSA, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the annual total resource and productivity cost of substance abuse at $510.8 billion, with alcohol use responsible for $191.6 billion (37.5 percent) of the loss. That was in 1999. Since then, substance use has only increased. Alcohol use is projected to rise, both in the US and globally, over the next decade.
Some countries have attempted to stem alcohol use by focusing on financial reforms. For example, almost all countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other pricing strategies such as banning below-cost sales or bulk buy discounts. Poznyak said “proven, cost-effective steps included raising alcohol taxes, restricting advertising and limiting easy access to alcohol.”
Men in wealthy countries were at a significantly higher risk than women. Easier access to resources, early intervention, and substance use education may be making a dent in developed nations. Eliminating the stigma of substance use disorder, incentivizing recovery, and changing social stereotypes around men and alcohol could go a long way toward saving lives.