World Health Organization Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health

The Global Problem of Alcohol

The World Health Organization (WHO) 2011 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health is the analysis of consumption trends, consequences and policy interventions related to alcohol. Global, regional and national statistics are used from government sources all over the world to assess the health concerns relating to alcohol use and what this means for the wider community.

Alcohol is considered a serious public health issue that is often not given the focus it deserves. Alcohol is known to be a causal factor in many diseases and a precursor to injury, violence and suicide. Hazardous and harmful use of alcohol contributes to the deaths of millions every year through drunk driving, acts of violence, harm to fetus and child development, cancers, liver disease and brain development. It also costs millions of dollars in health funds to manage the health impacts of alcohol including alcohol poisoning, injuries caused when intoxicated and violence as a result of alcohol.

The social impact of alcohol is often underestimated but it is known to contribute to significant personal, community and familial problems. Relationships with children, partners and extended family members are often strained through alcohol use and abuse, and it significantly increases the rates of domestic violence and child abuse. Workplace absenteeism and productivity issues are other problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol.

Some of the key findings of the report are as follows:

* Nearly 4 percent of all deaths are related to alcohol use, injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease and cirrhosis being the primary reasons.
* Approximately 320, 000 people aged 15-29 years old die from alcohol-related causes every year, accounting for 9 percent of all deaths in that age group.
* Worldwide, it is estimated that 6.13 liters of pure alcohol is consumed per person annually.
* Despite high consumption levels and widespread use of alcohol, almost half of all men and two-thirds of all women do not consume alcohol.
* Alcohol consumption is the world’s third-largest risk factor for disease and disability. In middle-income countries, it is the greatest risk.
* Alcohol is a factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries.
* Globally, more than 45 percent of all alcohol consumed is in spirits form. Additionally, 35 percent of all alcohol consumed is beer.

What is Drunk vs. How it is Drunk

Alcohol is a substance that when used responsibly is relatively harmless. It can be a pleasant social beverage that increases talk-ability, strengthens relationships and sociability, helps in alleviating anxiety and increases relaxation. Used irresponsibly, alcohol can cause health problems, increase violence and contribute to relationship breakdown. In many cases, the problems of alcohol are not what is being drunk, but how it is being drunk. Heavy drinking, binge drinking, episodic drinking and drinking with the aim of becoming intoxicated are all serious problems. This type of drinking can cause serious physical and mental harm and cause problems for the wider community.

One of the main concerns of the WHO report is the increase in hazardous and harmful drinking patterns. The report found that there is a global increase in underage drinking, which is typically associated with harmful drinking behaviors such as drinking to be intoxicated and binge drinking. The implications of this type of drinking can be very serious and harmful. Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking, is known to contribute to a number of negative health and social consequences, such as traffic accidents, violence, anti-social behavior, sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning and suicide. This is harmful, irresponsible and dangerous to both the person who is getting intoxicated and those around them.

Alcohol as a Public Health Problem

Alcohol is known to be a major contributor to public health issues in a number of ways. Occupational injuries, vehicular accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide and violence are some of the attributed problems. The relationship between of each of these issues and alcohol is often overlooked as a risk factor. Public health initiatives need to consider the effect that alcohol has on wider community problems and make significant changes to public policy to reduce the damage that alcohol inflicts.

Worldwide, over 1 million people die every year from suicide. Suicide is the11th most common cause of death in the United States. Statistics show that up to 25 percent of those who commit suicide are intoxicated with alcohol at the time of their death. The impact can be long lasting. It can change friend networks, create community problems and contribute to breakdowns of families and jobs.

Alcohol-related violence is a major public health problem all over the world. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of an individual being both the victim and perpetrator of violence. Alcohol-mediated domestic violence, homicide, assaults, rapes and property crimes are very common, and statistics show that a person who is intoxicated is more than twice as likely to be involved in a crime. There are massive costs to the community as a result of alcohol-related violence. Property damage alone can cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The public health system is burdened with treating injuries that are the result of abuse, sexual assaults and other violent acts.

Driving when affected by alcohol is a major public health problem. Road traffic accidents are in the top-three causes of death for people aged 5-44 years of age. Road accidents cause millions of dollars in lost revenue, health department expenses, property damage, major physical and psychological pain and strain on families and jobs. Serious injury as a result of a road accident can mean that individuals, families and the community have to fund long-term rehabilitation and medical costs. Alcohol is one of the major causes of road accidents. The presence of alcohol in the body has been shown to increase the severity of injuries from accidents. Alcohol has a range of effects that increase accident risk on reaction times, cognitive processing, coordination, vigilance, vision and hearing. The effects of alcohol impairment have been shown to begin at low blood alcohol levels.

Public health policies globally are working to towards reducing the impact that alcohol has on public health. Trauma, injury, financial burden and employment problems can all be minimized through moderating alcohol consumption and reducing harmful drinking practices. Individuals and communities need to appreciate the negative consequences that alcohol has on them and take appropriate steps to alleviate the damage.

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