A new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
(CAMH) shows that alcohol is now the third leading cause of the global burden
of disease and injury, despite the fact most adults worldwide abstain from
This research, part of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease
study, was published in this month's issue of the journal Addiction. It also
found that Canadians drink more than 50% above the global average.
"Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than
200 different diseases and injuries," said Kevin Shield, the lead author
of the study. "These include not only well-known outcomes of drinking such
as liver cirrhosis or traffic accidents, but also several types of cancer, such
as female breast cancer."
How the study was done
The study reports the amount and patterns of alcohol
consumption by country for 2005, and calculates estimates for these figures for
2010. It reveals vast differences by geographical region in the numbers of
people who consume alcohol, the amount they drink, and general patterns of
drinking. Some other findings:
- Drinkers in Europe and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are the
world's heaviest consumers of alcohol, on average.
- People in Eastern Europe and Southern Sub-Saharan Africa
consumed alcohol in the unhealthiest manner, as they frequently consumed large
quantities, drank to intoxication, engaged in prolonged binges, and consumed
alcohol mainly outside of meals.
- People in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia
consumed the least amount of alcohol.
- North Americans in general, and Canadians in particular
drink more than 50% above the global average, and show a more detrimental
drinking pattern than most EU countries, with more bingeing.
- The global burden of disease and injury attributable to
alcohol is large and growing. In 2010, it was responsible for 5.5% of this
overall burden, third after high blood pressure and tobacco smoking, among 67
risk factors overall.
This study summarises the results from population surveys,
sales or production data, and data on alcohol consumption not covered in
official records, from all countries, territories and regions.
Researchers also found that almost 30% of alcohol consumed
in 2005 was "unrecorded" alcohol – referring to alcohol not intended
for consumption, home-brewed alcohol, and illegally produced alcohol. In some
regions, unrecorded alcohol constituted more than half of all alcohol consumed.
"The amount of unrecorded alcohol consumed is a
particular problem, as its consumption is not impacted by public health alcohol
policies, such as taxation, which can moderate consumption," said Dr
Jürgen Rehm, a study author and director of CAMH's Social and Epidemiological
"Improving alcohol control policies presents one of the
greatest opportunities to prevent much of the health burden caused by alcohol
consumption," said Dr. Shield "To improve these policies, information
on how much alcohol people are consuming, and how people are consuming alcohol
is necessary, and that is exactly the information this article presents."