THURSDAY, June 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Consumption of alcohol is up, and so it seems are the ills associated with it. Worldwide, one in 25 deaths and 5 percent of the years that people live with health-related disabilities are related to alcohol, according to a new study.
Globally, average yearly alcohol consumption per person is the equivalent of about 1.6 gallons (6.2 liters) of pure ethanol a year, or about 12 units a week per person (with one unit equaling 0.3 ounces, or 10 milliliters). Annual consumption per person was found to be highest in Europe, where it equals 3.1 gallons (11.9 liters) of ethanol (21.5 units a week). That compares with 2.5 gallons (9.4 liters) a year (18 units a week) in North America and 0.2 gallons (0.7 liters) a year (1.3 units a week) in the eastern Mediterranean, which has the lowest levels.
"In all regions worldwide, men consume more alcohol than do women, although the exact ratio varies, with women in high-income countries consuming a larger proportion than those in low-income countries," wrote Dr. Jurgen Rehm, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, and colleagues.
"In the interpretation of these numbers," he added, "we should keep in mind that most of the adult population worldwide actually abstains from drinking alcohol (45 percent of men and 66 percent of women), most of them for their lifetime."
In 2004, the latest year with global data available to the researchers, one in 25 deaths worldwide, or 3.8 percent, were attributable to alcohol -- 6.3 percent of male deaths and 1.8 percent of female deaths. Europe had the highest rate of alcohol-associated deaths, at 10 percent, the study found. Within Europe, former Soviet Union countries had the highest rate, 15 percent.
In terms of volume of alcohol consumed per person, alcohol-related death rates were highest in developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia, according to the study.
Alcohol-attributable deaths worldwide have increased since 2000, mainly because of an increase in the number of women who drink, the study said. Most of the deaths resulted from injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis.
The researchers found that younger people carry a higher alcohol-associated disease burden than older people. Of all the years that people lived with a disability caused by alcohol, 34 percent were among people ages 15 to 29, 31 percent among those ages 30 to 44 and 22 percent among people ages 45 to 59.
When they compared the costs attributable to alcohol by income level, Rehm and his colleagues found that they were $358 a person in Scotland and $837 a person in the United States, which they said represented high-income nations. By comparison, costs attributable to alcohol were $122 a person in Thailand and $524 a person in South Korea, chosen by the researchers to represent middle-income countries.
"Globally, the effect of alcohol on burden of disease is about the same size as that of smoking in 2000, but it is greatest in developing countries," the researchers wrote. "This finding is not surprising since global consumption is increasing, especially in the most populous countries of India and China."
"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 harm," they wrote.
The study, the first in a series of three papers on alcohol, appears in this week's issue of The Lancet. The next papers will "discuss ways in which to decrease this burden," the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol and health.