Is harmful use of alcohol a public health problem?

Online Q&A
11 February 2011

Q: Is harmful use of alcohol a public health problem?

A: Harmful use of alcohol has a major impact on public health. It is currently ranked as the third leading risk factor for disease and disability in the world.

In 2004, harmful use of alcohol was estimated to cause about 2.25 million premature deaths worldwide and be responsible for 4.5% of the global disease burden, even after the protective effects of low and moderate alcohol consumption had been considered. Levels, patterns and the social context of drinking differ among regions, nations and communities in studies, but the overall negative health results are clear.

Current estimates of alcohol-related diseases only partly reveal the impact of harmful alcohol use. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between harmful use of alcohol and such infectious diseases as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Such relationships have to be proven and quantified before global burden of disease estimates attributable to alcohol can be adjusted accordingly.

Risky use of alcohol causes diverse social damage and economic costs, most of which are not reflected in the alcohol-related disease statistics. Harmful use of alcohol also contributes to disparities in health between and within countries, and, at a personal level, to poverty and social withdrawal.

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