A large new study published in The Lancet found that, across the globe, rates of individual alcohol consumption have soared. This, the authors warn, is a dangerous pattern that policymakers must address.
New research conducted by a team of investigators from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto, Canada, and the Technische Universität Dresden, in Germany, has revealed that people consume more alcohol, on a global level, compared with nearly 30 years ago.
Not only this, but the current upward trend is set to continue over the next few decades, according to the study authors’ estimates.
“Our study provides a comprehensive overview of the changing landscape in global alcohol exposure,” explains first author Jakob Manthey.
The research — the findings of which appear in The Lancet — analyzes trends in alcohol intake in 189 countries from 1990–2017 and estimates the rates through to 2030.
Manthey and the team analyzed levels of alcohol consumption per capita (per individual), as well as the implications of this consumption, working with data sourced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study.
Moreover, the researchers tried to find out how many people had never drunk alcohol and how many qualified as “binge drinkers,” defined by an intake of 60 grams of pure alcohol or more at a single sitting.
For this side of their analysis, they used data for the same period, 1990–2017, collected through surveys in 149 countries, for nondrinkers, and in 118 countries, for binge drinkers.
Finally, the team looked at estimates of gross domestic product in all 189 countries, as well as other relevant information, to try and gauge how alcohol drinking patterns might evolve until 2030.
The researchers’ findings reveal some worrying — also surprising — trends. They found that, while patterns of alcohol consumption have not changed much in high-income countries, low- and middle-income regions are seeing a staggering increase.
At the global level, the team found that the total volume of alcohol consumed per year increased by as much as 70% between 1990 and 2017, from 20,999 million liters per year to 35,676 million liters per year.
“Before 1990, most alcohol was consumed in high-income countries, with the highest use levels recorded in Europe. 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,” explains Manthey.
Moreover, he adds, “This trend is forecast to continue up to 2030, when Europe is no longer predicted to have the highest level of alcohol use.”
In Europe, alcohol consumption — among adults, per capita, per year — decreased by 12%, from 11.2 liters to 9.8 liters between 2010 and 2017. The same figure increased by 34% in Southeast Asian countries, from 3.5 liters to 4.7 liters.
Over the same time period, alcohol consumption saw a small increase, from 9.3 liters to 9.8 liters, in the United States, and from 7.1 liters to 7.4 liters in China, though it decreased in the United Kingdom, from 12.3 liters to 11.4 liters.
The researchers also observe that in most of the countries that they studied, the volume of alcohol consumed seemed to increase at a faster rate than the number of drinkers, suggesting that the average volume of alcohol intake per individual is set to rise.
More specifically, alcohol consumption per capita is likely to increase from 5.9 liters of pure alcohol per year in 1990 to 7.6 liters in 2030.
By that point in time, the investigators add, about half of all adults around the world will consume alcohol, and 23% of adults will engage in binge drinking at least once every month.
And since alcohol is a known risk factor for numerous health problems, the global burden of disease will, most likely, also increase.
“Alcohol use is prevalent globally, but with clear regional differences that can largely be attributed to religion, implementation of alcohol policies, and economic growth,” says Manthey.
“Economic growth seems to explain the global increase in alcohol use over the past few decades. For example, the economic transitions and increased wealth of several countries — in particular the transitions of China and India — were accompanied by increased alcohol use.”
Moreover, the first author notes, “The growing alcohol market in middle-income countries is estimated to more than outweigh the declining use in high-income countries, resulting in a global increase.”
The researchers are also particularly concerned about the fact that large policymakers will likely not manage to achieve their goals of reducing dangerous alcohol consumption rates at a global level.
“Based on our data, the WHO’s aim of reducing the harmful use of alcohol by 10% by 2025 will not be reached globally,” warns Manthey.
“Instead,” he goes on, “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. Implementation of effective alcohol policies is warranted, especially in rapidly developing countries with growing rates of alcohol use.”
Considering the current trends, the research team argues that countries and policymakers should up their games when it comes to prevention, calling for strategies such as increased taxation on alcoholic drinks and reducing the availability of alcohol as much as possible.