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Alcohol Is World's Third Leading Cause of Illness

Booze causes 5.5% of global injury and disease, even though only 40% of people drink.


International health hazard. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda


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Alcohol is now the third leading cause of disease and injury worldwide, even though most adults don't drink at all, new research finds. According to findings published in the journal Addiction, as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study, alcohol was responsible for 5.5% of sicknesses and accidents, following high blood pressure, and smoking. “Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries,” says doctoral student and study lead Kevin Shield. “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.” Globally, an average of 4.5 gallons of booze were consumed per drinker, even though 45.8% of the world's population abstain from drinking entirely, 13.6% were former drinkers and 40.6% were current drinkers. The study also reveals that patterns of alcohol consumption vary depending on geographical region, with Europe and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa averaging as the world’s heaviest consumers of alcohol. Citizens of Eastern Europe and Southern Sub-Saharan Africa show the "unhealthiest" patterns of consumption, with high rates of binge drinking and most boozing taking place outside of meals. North Americans and Canadians drink more than 50% above the global average, with higher rates of binge drinking than European countries. North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia were found to consume the least amount of alcohol.

Surprisingly, the study found that 30% of the world's booze intake was “unrecorded," meaning it was not intended for consumption. This includes illegally produced and home-brewed alcohol, and accounted for over half of the alcohol consumed in some regions. “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,” says Dr. Jürgen Rehm, director of CAMH’s Social and Epidemiological Research Department. Shield added, “Improving alcohol control policies presents one of the greatest opportunities to prevent much of the health burden caused by alcohol consumption.”

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