Is harmful use of alcohol a public health problem?

Online Q&A
Updated May 2014

Q: Is harmful use of alcohol a public health problem?

A: Yes, the harmful use of alcohol is an important public health problem. It impacts people and societies in many ways.

It is well known that there is a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, other noncommunicable conditions such as liver diseases, some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road accidents. Furthermore, there are causal relationships between harmful use of alcohol and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, as well as the course of HIV/AIDS. More than this, harmful use of alcohol creates considerable negative health and social consequences for people other than the drinker.

Current estimates of alcohol-related diseases only partly reveal the impact of harmful alcohol use. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between harmful use of alcohol and such infectious diseases as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Such relationships have to be proven and quantified before global burden of disease estimates attributable to alcohol can be adjusted accordingly.

Harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and injuries. In 2012, 5.1% of the global disease burden was due to the harmful use of alcohol, and an estimated 3.3 million people died from alcohol related conditions that year.

Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large. In countries with lower economic wealth the morbidity and mortality risks are higher per litre of pure alcohol consumed than in the higher income countries.

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