Social, Economic Factors Play Significant Role in European Alcohol-Related Deaths

By Paul Gaita 12/14/15

A far ranging study shows where the highest and lowest alcohol mortality rates are in Europe.

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Researchers in the Netherlands have published a new study that links the great disparity in alcohol-related illness or death among men and women from various socioeconomic groups in Europe.

The study authors, led by Johan Mackenbach from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, analyzed data on deaths from a wide range of alcohol-related conditions, from alcohol abuse to cardiomyopathy and cirrhosis, from the mortality registers of 17 European countries, as well as available information on educational level and occupational class on the decedents.

They also drew on literature reviews culled from national cause-of-death data, which suggested that different socioeconomic groups—which, for purposes of the study, are defined by educational level and occupational class—consume alcohol in different manners. This data suggested that while those in higher socioeconomic groups experienced greater frequency and levels of drinking, while more incidents of binge drinking and alcohol-related health and social problems were reported among lower socioeconomic groups.

The highest levels of inequality in mortality rates were found in Eastern European countries, like Hungary and Estonia, and Northern European countries, like Finland and Denmark. In these countries, researchers found that alcoholism accounted for 10% of the differences in deaths among males. The study authors noted that data totals for these countries had numerous variables.

For example, cultural factors may account for the relatively low inequality levels in Southern Europe, where drinking is largely done to accompany meals, while binge drinking is more common Northern and Eastern Europe. External factors, such as stress or finance, may also play a significant role in the data. The researchers note that in countries like Hungary, individuals from lower socioeconomic groups have greater access to lower quality alcoholic drinks that may contain dangerous compounds.

Despite these differences, the study authors note that enough consistency exists in these mortality inequalities for governments and social agencies to increase the amount of treatment available to all socioeconomic levels. Further study may delve into why the mortality rates among these groups in countries like France, Switzerland, and Spain do not have the same levels of disparity.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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