By Margarita Nahapetyan
Alcohol consumption is attributed to one in every 25 deaths all across the world, according to a study from the Toronto-based Center for Addiction and Mental Health. The scientists came to the conclusion that effects of drinking are as harmful as those of smoking.
"These numbers are high," said Dr. Jurgen Rehm, a senior scientist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, and one of the principal authors of the new study. "And they are only getting higher as more people drink in higher volumes and more frequent patterns," Dr. Rehm added.
Writing in the journal The Lancet, the investigators from the University of Toronto linked alcohol consumption to behavioral deaths, such as violent injuries, as well as medical issues like heart disease, cancer and liver conditions, in particular, cirrhosis. Alcohol can influence several hormonal systems in the body, resulting also in various conditions, such as mouth and throat, colorectal and breast cancers, as well as strokes.
According to the report, 3.8 per cent of deaths around the globe in 2004 (the most recent year for data) were associated with alcohol intake, with 6.3 per cent deaths for men and 1.8 per cent for women. The experts stressed out that the level of disease associated with drinking affects poorest people the most.
The study found that overall, alcohol-related deaths climbed up since 2000, mainly due to increases in the number of women drinking alcohol. The results demonstrated that European countries had a high proportion of deaths linked to alcohol, with 1 in 10 deaths directly related to drinking (up to 15 per cent in the former Soviet republics). Average alcohol intake in Europe among adults is somewhat higher than in North America: 13 standard drinks per person on a weekly basis in Europe, when compared to North America's 10 to 11 standard drinks. One standard drink is equal to 13.6 grams of pure ethanol and corresponds to a can of beer, one glass or wine and one shot of spirits.
As to Canada, the consumption rate there is equivalent of almost 9 standard drinks per person per week (age 15 and up), and has been increasing, as has high risk drinking. Worldwide, the average alcohol intake is around 7 standard drinks per person per week (in spite of the fact that most of the adult population worldwide actually abstains from drinking alcohol). The lowest figures were observed in eastern Mediterranean countries, where consumption was just 1.3 units on a weekly basis.
"This finding is not surprising since global consumption is increasing, especially in the most populous countries of India and China, Dr. Rehm said. He added: "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."
A woman who consumes three drinks every day on average puts herself at an increased risk of developing breast cancer by about 15 per cent, said Dr. Rehm. This means that only one in 20 cases of breast cancer is attributed to alcohol intake. And that is why people tend to ignore alcohol as a carcinogen, the expert said. The report noted that drinking also leads to accidental, premature deaths, and that, although there have been some benefits of moderate drinking linked to cardiovascular disease, these are far outweighed by the harmful effects of alcohol on disease and injury.
So, the experts caution drinkers to rethink alcohol completely as a risk factor. Of course, they do not suggest to exclude alcohol intake completely, but advise to consume it in smaller quantities and in quantities which are actually not as detrimental for health.