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Alcohol Consumption’s High Toll of Disease, Injuries and Death Outlined

Washington, DC, and Geneva , 11 February 2011 (PAHO/WHO)—A report launched today by the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for urgent action to reduce harmful alcohol use, which kills some 2.5 million people annually and contributes to nonfatal illnesses and injuries across the globe.

The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health presents data collected in countries around the world about the impact of excessive and hazardous use of alcohol. The report notes that harmful use of alcohol is:

  • A direct cause of nearly 4 percent of all deaths worldwide—more deaths than are caused by HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.
  • A causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries and a component cause in 200 others.
  • A leading risk factor for death in males ages 15 to 59, mainly due to injuries, violence, and cardiovascular diseases.
The report calls on countries to implement measures that have been shown to reduce alcohol-related harm. These include taxing alcohol, restricting sales to reduce availability, raising the age limit for purchasing alcohol, and passing and enforcing effective drunk-driving laws.

In the Americas, alcohol consumption is higher than the global average, and the typical consumption pattern is hazardous, says Dr. Maristela Monteiro, senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“In the Americas, when people drink they tend to drink excessively. And unfortunately, in our region, women are catching up with men on consumption.”

Dr. Monteiro adds that alcohol has a disproportionate effect on young people in the Americas; it is the leading cause of death for 15- to 39-year-olds.

Alcohol is a significant contributor to the burden of disease in most countries, but its impact is not the same in all countries or regions. The highest consumption rates are found in developed countries, including eastern and western Europe, though not the highest rates of high-risk drinking.

Many eastern European countries have both high rates of consumption and risky drinking patterns, leading to increased alcohol-related deaths and disabilities. Abstention rates are high in North African and South Asian countries with large typically non-drinking populations.

The WHO report notes that harmful alcohol use is associated with risks not only to drinkers but also to others.  “An intoxicated person can put people in harm’s way by involving them in traffic accidents or violent behavior, or by negatively affecting co-workers, relatives, friends or strangers. A survey in Australia found that two-thirds of respondents were adversely affected by someone else’s drinking in the past year,” the report notes.

A number of PAHO member countries have adopted policies aimed at reducing the harmful use of alcohol. Examples include:

  • Venezuela has increased taxes on alcoholic beverages.
  • In Costa Rica, the government controls advertising of alcohol.
  • Chile, El Salvador and Peru are developing comprehensive plans and policies to reduce harmful use of alcohol.
  • In Canada, Mexico, the United States and other countries, screening and brief interventions are being incorporated into primary health care services to better detect and provide help for patients who are at risk of harmful alcohol use.
  • Brazil has adopted zero tolerance laws for drunk driving along with a media campaign and increased law enforcement, and has documented a significant decrease in deaths from traffic injuries.
PAHO is currently developing a regional plan of action to promote similar measures in member countries throughout the Americas. The PAHO plan of action will provide regional support for the implementation of a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol that was approved by the World Health Assembly in May 2010. 

The WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health is available for download.


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Last Updated on Friday, 11 February 2011 09:39

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