Over 3 million Deaths Annually Linked to Alcohol and Drug Use; High Mortality Among Men

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that over 3 million deaths per year are attributable to alcohol and drug use. Alcohol consumption alone accounts for 2.6 million deaths annually, representing 4.7% of all global deaths, while psychoactive drug use is responsible for 0.6 million deaths. Men are disproportionately affected, with 2 million of the alcohol-related deaths and 0.4 million drug-related deaths occurring among them.

Global Status Report on Substance Use

The WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders provides comprehensive 2019 data on the public health impact of alcohol and drug use worldwide. It highlights that approximately 400 million people globally live with substance use disorders, including 209 million with alcohol dependence.

“Substance use severely harms health, increasing the risk of chronic diseases, mental health conditions, and resulting in millions of preventable deaths annually,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. He stressed the need for urgent actions to mitigate the health and social consequences of substance use and to make treatment accessible and affordable.

Health Impacts of Alcohol Consumption

Despite some reductions in alcohol-related deaths since 2010, the overall number remains alarmingly high at 2.6 million in 2019. The highest death rates from alcohol are seen in the European and African regions, particularly in low-income countries where the death rates per litre of alcohol consumed are highest.

In 2019, alcohol was responsible for 1.6 million deaths from non-communicable diseases, including 474,000 from cardiovascular diseases and 401,000 from cancer. Alcohol also caused 724,000 deaths from injuries such as traffic crashes and interpersonal violence, and 284,000 deaths from communicable diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. Young people aged 20-39 years accounted for 13% of all alcohol-related deaths.

Alcohol Consumption Trends

Global alcohol consumption per capita slightly decreased from 5.7 litres in 2010 to 5.5 litres in 2019. The highest consumption levels were recorded in the WHO European Region (9.2 litres) and the Region of the Americas (7.5 litres). On average, drinkers consumed 27 grams of pure alcohol daily, equivalent to two glasses of wine or two bottles of beer.

In 2019, 38% of drinkers engaged in heavy episodic drinking, defined as consuming at least 60 grams of alcohol in one session. This pattern was prevalent among men and younger populations, with 23.5% of 15-19-year-olds globally being current drinkers, especially in the European (45.9%) and Americas (43.9%) regions.

Treatment Gaps for Substance Use Disorders

Although effective treatment options exist, coverage remains critically low. In 2019, only 1% to 35% of people with substance use disorders were in contact with treatment services in reporting countries. Most countries lack a dedicated budget for treating these disorders, and many do not offer support groups, highlighting significant healthcare gaps.

Stigma, discrimination, and misconceptions about treatment efficacy contribute to these gaps, leading to the low prioritization of substance use disorders by health and development agencies.

Strategies for Progress

To achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.5 and reduce substance use impacts, the report outlines several strategic actions:

·       Raise Awareness: Launch global advocacy campaigns.

·       Strengthen Healthcare Systems: Enhance prevention and treatment capacities.

·       Increase Training: Educate health professionals.

·       Implement Global Plans: Follow the Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030.

·       Boost International Efforts: Enhance capacity-building and knowledge sharing.

·       Engage Communities: Involve civil society and people with lived experience.

·       Improve Monitoring: Develop multi-level monitoring systems.

·       Mobilize Resources: Increase funding for health and social systems.

Call for Global Action

The WHO emphasizes the urgent need for global efforts to reduce the health and social impacts of alcohol and drug use. By prioritizing these issues, countries can make significant strides toward a healthier and more equitable society.

(With inputs from agencies)

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