Alcohol kills more than Aids: WHO

13 May 2014

People who think there is no harm in a couple of drinks an evening may need to think again. According to figures released by the World Health Organisation on Monday, alcohol kills 3.3 million people worldwide each year, more than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined.

Alcohol kills more than Aids: WHOAnd sadly for India's 'demographic dividend' much touted by half-baked planners and uneducated politicians, the WHO study shows that alcohol consumption is on the rise in a country that has traditionally avoided the substance in favour of safer 'highs'.

The United Nations' health watchdog said that alcohol causes one in 20 deaths globally every year. Apart from the obvious problems of drink-driving and alcohol-induced violence and abuse, alcohol also causes a multitude of physical diseases and disorders.

"This actually translates into one death every 10 seconds," Shekhar Saxena, head of the WHO's mental health and substance abuse department, told reporters in Geneva on Monday.

Alcohol caused some 3.3 million deaths in 2012, equivalent to 5.9 per cent of global deaths (7.6 per cent for men and 4.0 per cent for women), WHO said.

In comparison, HIV/AIDS is responsible for 2.8 per cent of deaths, tuberculosis causes 1.7 per cent of deaths and violence for just 0.9 per cent, the study showed.

More people in countries where alcohol consumption has traditionally been low, like China and India, are also increasingly taking up the habit as their wealth increases, the study said.

"More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption," Oleg Chestnov of the WHO's non-communicable diseases and mental health unit said in a statement while launching the massive report on global alcohol consumption and its impact on public health.

Drinking is linked to more than 200 health conditions, including liver cirrhosis and some types of cancer. Alcohol abuse also makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV and pneumonia.

Most deaths attributed to alcohol - around a third - are caused by associated cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Alcohol-related accidents, such as car crashes, were the second-highest killer, accounting for around 17.1 per cent of all alcohol-related deaths.

Binge drinking is especially damaging to health, the WHO said, estimating that 16 per cent of the world's drinkers abuse alcohol to excess.

While people in the world's wealthiest nations, in Europe and the Americas especially, are boozier than people in poorer countries, rising wealth in emerging economies is also driving up alcohol consumption.

Drinking in populous China and India is rising particularly fast as people earn more money, the WHO said, warning that the average annual intake in China was likely to swell by 1.5 litres of pure alcohol by 2025.

Still, Eastern Europe and Russia remain the world's biggest drinkers.

Russian men who drink consumed an average of 32 litres of pure alcohol a year, according to 2010 statistics, followed by other Western countries including Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and South Africa.

On average, every person above the age of 15 worldwide drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol in a year. Counting only those who drink though, that rises to 17 litres of pure alcohol each year.

But far from everyone indulges. Nearly half of all adults worldwide have never touched alcohol, and nearly 62 per cent say they have not touched a drink in the past year, the report showed.

Abstinence, especially among women, is most common in low-income countries, while religious belief and social norms mean many Muslim countries are virtually alcohol-free.

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