One in 25 deaths attributable to alcohol

In collaboration with the Press Association

One in 25 deaths worldwide and as many as one tenth in Europe can be attributed to alcohol consumption, scientists have said.

A report in the Lancet medical journal has highlighted the global burden of disease and injury - as well as the economic cost - caused by alcohol use and related illness.

Alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of cancer after smoking.

After analysing data on alcohol-related deaths in 2004, the researchers concluded that 3.8 per cent of all deaths are attributable to alcohol.

This includes 6.3 per cent of male deaths and 1.8 per cent of female deaths.

They suggest that alcohol accounts for nearly five per cent of years lived with disability and that the costs associated with alcohol amount to more than one per cent of gross national product (GNP) in high- and middle-income nations.

Writing in the Lancet, the researchers concluded that alcohol consumption is "one of the major avoidable risk factors" and that "actions to reduce burden and costs associated with alcohol should be urgently increased".

"We face a large and increasing alcohol-attributable burden at a time when we know more than ever about which strategies can effectively and cost-effectively control alcohol-related harms," they said.

In response to the report, Alcohol Concern's chief executive Don Shenker noted that alcohol-related deaths in England have risen by almost a fifth since the start of the decade.

"While the main cause [of alcohol-related death] remains alcoholic liver disease, it's also important to remember that alcohol can contribute to a range of cancers, strokes and heart problems," he pointed out.

"As the Chief Medical Officer has identified, putting a stop to the irresponsible sale of low-cost alcohol would be an effective step in the right direction."

Dr Joanna Owens, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "It's sad to see these figures, but it's encouraging to see from the study that when people change their lifestyle the benefits can be immediate.

"The good news is that the more you can cut down on drinking alcohol, the more you reduce your cancer risk - and it's never too late to start. We know that alcohol increases the risk of seven types of cancer, and if you smoke and drink, the risk is even greater."

References

Rehm, J., Mathers, C., Popova, S., Thavorncharoensap, M., Teerawattananon, Y., & Patra, J. (2009). Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders The Lancet, 373 (9682), 2223-2233 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60746-7

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