Alcohol use soaring worldwide, new study finds

An adult averages about one drink a day around the world, the study finds.
An adult averages about one drink a day around the world, the study finds.  Photo: Shutterstock

Global alcohol use continues to rise, a new study reports, and is expected to keep growing in the years ahead.

In fact, just in the past 27 years, the total volume of alcohol people consumed globally each year increased by 70 per cent - from 21 billion litres in 1990 to 35.5 billion litres in 2017. That's a result of increased population along with increased alcohol consumption.

As of 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the increase equates to about 6.5 litres  of pure alcohol per year per adult.

This means that an adult averages about one drink a day, whether it's a  standard glass of beer,wine or distilled spirits, the study said.

Consumption is growing in low and middle-income countries, while the total volume of alcohol consumed in high-income countries has remained stable.

"Our study provides a comprehensive overview of the changing landscape in global alcohol exposure," said study author Jakob Manthey of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany.

"Before 1990, most alcohol was consumed in high-income countries, with the highest use levels recorded in Europe," he said. "However, this pattern has changed substantially, with large reductions across Eastern Europe and vast increases in several middle-income countries such as China, India, and Vietnam."

The study analysed data from 189 countries around the world.

"This trend is forecast to continue up to 2030 when Europe is no longer predicted to have the highest level of alcohol use," Manthey said.

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The regions with the lowest per-capita consumption were in North Africa and the Middle East, according to the study.

And despite the reductions in consumption, the heaviest drinkers still live in Central and Eastern European countries.

The estimates also suggest that by 2030, half of the world's adults will drink alcohol, and almost a quarter (23 per cent) will binge-drink at least once a month.

That means the world is not on track to meet alcohol reduction efforts recently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The global body, in a September 2018 report, said more than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, or one in 20 deaths.

"Based on our data, the WHO's aim of reducing the harmful use of alcohol by 10 per cent by 2025 will not be reached globally," Manthey said. "Instead, alcohol use will remain one of the leading risk factors for the burden of disease for the foreseeable future, and its impact will probably increase relative to other risk factors."

Alcohol is a major risk factor for disease, the study said, and is linked to more than 200 diseases.

Sarah Callinan of Australia's La Trobe University, in referring to the study, warned that the shift in alcohol consumption globally from high-income to lower-income countries could lead to disproportionate increases in harm. She said that's because the harm per gallon of alcohol is substantially higher in low-income and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

The Distilled Spirits Council, a U.S-based alcohol trade association, did not agree with the study's findings: "This forecast is based on a questionable model that does not accurately reflect the long-term global reductions in alcohol abuse," the group said in an email to USA TODAY.

"In fact, the study's findings contradict the latest data from the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018, which showed important reductions in key global alcohol abuse indicators including alcohol related deaths and heavy episodic drinking from 2010 to 2016," the Council said.

Tuesday's study was published in the British medical journal The Lancet. 

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