Today the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that alcohol is to blame for just about 4% of, or 2.5 million deaths worldwide annually. Alcohol attributable injuries are of a growing concern to the public health community, with alcohol-related injuries such as road traffic accidents, burns, poisonings, falls and drownings making up more than a third of the disease burden attributable to alcohol consumption. AIDS was a close second with 2.1 milion deaths in 2009.

Yet alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking's heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism.

Thirty percent of alcohol is illegally produced globally and is often extremely toxic to say the least.

The multi-layered report states:

"The harmful use of alcohol is especially fatal for younger age groups and alcohol is the world's leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59. Worldwide, about 11% of drinkers have weekly heavy episodic drinking occasions, with men outnumbering women by four to one. Men consistently engage in hazardous drinking at much higher levels than women in all regions."

Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries, according to WHO's first report on alcohol since 2004. Its consumption has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents, violence, and several types of cancer, including cancers of the colorectum, breast, larynx and liver.

Binge drinking, which often leads to risky behavior, is now prevalent in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine, and rising elsewhere. Some countries restrict marketing of alcoholic beverages or on the industry's sponsorship of sporting events.

The report continues:

"Yet not enough countries use these and other effective policy options to prevent death, disease and injury attributable to alcohol consumption."

One solution is to raise taxes, such as governments have enforced upon the tobacco industry. In the United States for example, a 10% price increase reduced cigarette consumption about 4%. In 2009, companies began raising prices to cover the tax increase. Marlboro maker Philip Morris raised prices by at least 71 cents a pack. R.J. Reynolds, maker of Camel, did so by at least 42 cents. This put picking up the habit or even continuing out of reach.

Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and alcohol abuse are two different forms of problem drinking. Alcoholism occurs when a person shows signs of physical addiction to alcohol (for example, tolerance and withdrawal) and continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Alcohol may come to dominate the person's life and relationships. In alcohol abuse, a person's drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction.

There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The reason why some people drink in a responsible manner and never lose control of their lives while others are unable to control their drinking is not clear.

Some people are able to gain control over their alcohol abuse before it progresses to dependence, while others are not. No one knows which heavy drinkers will be able to regain control and which will not, but the amount of alcohol one drinks can influence the likelihood of becoming dependent.

Source: World Health Organization

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.