Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths in 2012 were due to harmful use of alcohol, says a new report launched by WHO today.

Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 provides country profiles for alcohol consumption in the 194 WHO Member States, and the impact on public health and policy responses. It was launched in Geneva during the second meeting of the global network of WHO national counterparts for implementation of the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

The report highlights the need for action by countries including:

  • National leadership to develop policies to reduce harmful use of alcohol (66 WHO Member States had written national alcohol policies in 2012);
  • National awareness-raising activities (nearly 140 countries reported at least one such activity in the past three years);
  • Health services to deliver prevention and treatment services, in particular increasing prevention, treatment and care for patients and their families, and supporting initiatives for screening and brief interventions.

In addition, the report shows the need for communities to be engaged in reducing harmful use of alcohol.

“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” says Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health. “The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol.”

The report points to the fact that a higher percentage of deaths among men than among women are from alcohol-related causes – 7.6% of men’s deaths and 4% of women’s deaths – though there is evidence that women may be more vulnerable to some alcohol-related health conditions compared to men.

Lower-income groups were also more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol. Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO says that the reason for this is that they “often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.”

On average every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. But as less than half the population (38.3%) actually drinks alcohol, this means that those who do drink consume on average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually.

Globally, Europe consumes the highest amount of alcohol per person, with trend data showing consumption levels stabilising in the last five years. The same is also true of Africa and the Americas. But increases have been reported in the South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions.

Other highlights include:

  • Worldwide consumption in 2010 was equal to 6.2 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person aged 15 years or older, which translates into 13.5 grams of pure alcohol per day.
  • UK consumption per person aged 15 or older was slightly above the European 2008–2010 average (11.6 litres compared with 10.9 litres).
  • A quarter of global consumption (24.8%) was unrecorded, i.e., homemade alcohol, illegally produced or sold outside normal government controls. Of total recorded alcohol consumed worldwide, 50.1% was consumed in the form of spirits.
  • Worldwide 61.7% of the population aged 15 years or older (15+) had not drunk alcohol in the past 12 months. In all WHO regions, females are more often lifetime abstainers than males. There is a considerable variation in prevalence of abstention across WHO regions.
  • Worldwide about 16.0% of drinkers aged 15 years or older engage in heavy episodic drinking. 33.4% UK drinkers do so, more than twice the global average.
  • In general, the greater the economic wealth of a country, the more alcohol is consumed and the smaller the number of abstainers. As a rule, high-income countries have the highest alcohol per capita consumption (APC) and the highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among drinkers.
  • In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption.
  • There are significant sex differences in the proportion of global deaths attributable to alcohol, for example, in 2012 7.6% of deaths among males and 4.0% of deaths among females were attributable to alcohol.
  • In 2012, 139 million DALYs (disability-adjusted life years), or 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury, were attributable to alcohol consumption.
  • There is also wide geographical variation in the proportion of alcohol-attributable deaths and DALYs, with the highest alcohol-attributable fractions reported in the WHO European Region.

The full report, press release, and alcohol profiles of each country are accessible via the World Health Organisation website.