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WHO says 2.6 million alcohol-related deaths globally is ‘unacceptably high’

Alcohol-related deaths are highest in the European region.
Alcohol-related deaths are highest in the European region. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Gabriela Galvin
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There were 2.6 million alcohol-related deaths across the globe in 2019, and Europe had the highest death rate, according to a new report.


People are more likely to die from alcohol-related issues in Europe than anywhere else, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, there were 2.6 million alcohol-related deaths in 2019, a 2.5 per cent decline from 2010 but still “unacceptably high,” Dr Vladimir Poznyak, who heads the alcohol, drugs, and addictive behaviours unit in WHO’s department of mental health and substance use, said during a press conference.

The European region had the highest alcohol-related death rate – 52.9 per 100,000, just above Africa’s 52.2 per 100,000 – as well as the world’s highest rate of alcohol use disorder, at 10.7 per cent, though prevalence has plummeted in recent years.

The alcohol use disorder rate has also decreased in the Americas and Western Pacific countries, while it’s risen in the African, Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian regions. 

Overall, an estimated 400 million people had alcohol use disorder, which increases the risk of digestive and cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, cancer, injuries, and other health problems.

Europeans also lead the world when it comes to casual drinking, imbibing an average of 9.2 litres per capita compared with 5.5 litres globally. Among the 10 countries with the highest alcohol consumption per capita, seven were European Union member states.

“There is no risk-free level of alcohol consumption,” Poznyak said, though biological, social, and contextual factors play a role in shaping someone’s individual risk.

That’s why, as part of the WHO’s sustainable development goals, the agency aims to curb binge drinking, particularly among teenagers – but it doesn’t set particular data points or criteria for individual countries to meet. By 2030, the WHO wants the “harmful use of alcohol” to drop by  20 per cent compared with 2010.

‘Critical gaps’ in substance use disorder treatment

Drug use and addiction are also major global health challenges.

In 2019, nearly 600,000 people died as a result of psychoactive drug use, the report found. Substance use disorders are closely linked to mental health conditions and can increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases, infections associated with injecting drugs, and accidental deaths.

Access to treatment for substance use problems remains a major barrier in most of the world, the WHO report found. Across the countries surveyed, treatment uptake ranges from less than one per cent to 35 per cent.

Disparities also exist within countries. Most alcohol-related deaths were among men, while substance use disorder disproportionately affects people of lower socioeconomic status.

“Stigma, discrimination, and misconceptions about the efficacy of treatment contribute to these critical gaps in treatment provision, as well as the continued low prioritisation of substance use disorders in health and developmental agencies,” Poznyak said.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted data collection and analysis, which delayed the report’s release by two years.

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