Research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada says that 4 percent of worldwide deaths are directly attributable to alcohol consumption and the rise is mainly due to increases in the number of women and Europeans drinking.

The study showed that Europe had a high proportion of deaths related to alcohol, with 1 in 10 deaths directly attributable (up to 15% in the former Soviet Union). Average alcohol consumption in Europe in the adult population is higher than in North America, with 13 standard drinks per person per week (1 standard drink = 13.6 grams of pure ethanol and corresponds to a can of beer, one glass of wine or one shot of spirits) compared to North America's 10-11.(*)  Globally, the average is around 7 standard drinks per person per week (despite the fact that most of the adult population worldwide actually abstains from drinking alcohol). 

CAMH's Dr Jürgen Rehm and colleagues writing in The Lancet found that alcohol-attributable disorders are among the most disabling disease categories within the global burden of disease, especially for men. And in contrast to other traditional risk factors for disease, the burden attributable to alcohol lies more with younger people than with the older population.

Dr. Rehm still takes an optimistic 'glass half full' response to this large and increasing alcohol-attributable burden. "Today, we know more than ever about which strategies can effectively and cost-effectively control alcohol-related harms," Dr. Rehm said today. "Provided that our public policy makers act on these practical strategies expeditiously, we could see an enormous impact in reducing damage." 

Most of the deaths caused by alcohol were through injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and liver cirrhosis. 

"Globally, the effect of alcohol on burden of disease is about the same size as that of smoking in 2000, but it is relatively greatest in emerging economies. Global consumption is increasing, especially in the most populous countries of India and China." 

CAMH is an advocacy group for ways of reducing alcohol use. For example, CAMH endorsed the legislative change implemented this year requiring young Ontario drivers to maintain a 0% blood alcohol content.  Other policies they endorse include price controls and limits on the number of outlets for purchase.

"There are significant social, health and economic problems caused by alcohol," said Gail Czukar, CAMH's executive vice-president, Policy, Education and Health Promotion. "But research gives us sound, proven interventions that governments and health providers can use to address these problems."

(*) The report notes that the Canadian consumption rate is lower, almost 9 standard drinks per person per week age 15 plus, but has been going up, as has high risk drinking.