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Health impacts

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths every year, representing 5.9% of all deaths, and it is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Overall 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20 – 39 years approximately 25% of the total deaths are alcohol-attributable. There are gender differences in alcohol-related mortality, morbidity, as well as levels and patterns of alcohol consumption. The percentage of alcohol-attributable deaths among men amount to 7.6% of all global deaths compared to 4.0 % of all deaths among women.

There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other noncommunicable conditions such as cancer and heart disease, as well as injuries. There is also evidence to indicate causal relationships between harmful drinking and the incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.

The impact of alcohol consumption on chronic and acute health outcomes in populations is largely determined by two separate but related dimensions of drinking: 1) the total volume of alcohol consumed; and 2) the pattern of drinking. There is evidence that a nation's alcohol consumption directly impacts on the health of its citizens; for example, the European Comparative Alcohol Study has found that for all European Union (EU) countries, any rise or fall in alcohol consumption runs parallel to the harm caused by it.[1]

This especially applies to the UK, where deaths from liver cirrhosis (largely caused by alcohol) increased – as did consumption levels – between 1987 and 2001.[2] Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer in 2011, noted that mortality from alcoholic liver disease in the country became the highest in Western Europe during that period.[3]

A variety of factors have been identified at the individual and the societal level, which affect the levels and patterns of alcohol consumption and the magnitude of alcohol-related problems in populations. Environmental factors include the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol, economic development, culture and the comprehensiveness and levels of implementation and enforcement of alcohol policies.

This factsheet provides an overview of how alcohol effects individuals’ health and also the population levels of alcohol related morbidity and mortality in the UK.

Click on links opposite to view each section of the factsheet online, or click on the image below to download the entire factsheet as a PDF (updated September 2016):


Based on The World Health Organisation ‘Alcohol’ webpage, except where stated (see below).

[1] Norstrom T & Skog O-J, 'Alcohol and mortality', Addiction (2001), 96, Supplement 1, S5–S18

[2] The Scottish Government, 'Health in Scotland 2007: Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer' <http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/11/26155748/4#_blank>

[3] The Scottish Government, ‘Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2011 – Transforming Scotland's Health’, p. 2 <http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2009/12/16103619/0>