19 May Unhealthy Drinking Widespread Around the World, CAMH Study Finds
The Canada-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one of the world’s leading substance abuse, addiction, and mental health research organizations, has just released the results of a massive worldwide study that explored the connection between alcohol consumption and ill health.
Publishing their findings in the March 2013 edition of the journal Addiction, the authors of the report revealed that as of 2010, alcohol had become the planet’s third leading cause of disease and injury, trailing only high blood pressure and smoking among a list of 67 different high risk factors. Approximately 5.5 percent of all health problems requiring medical attention, including chronic illnesses and physical injuries incurred in various accidents, can be connected to the use and abuse of alcohol, a percentage that has risen in recent years despite the apparent successes of global campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse.
Alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 300 different types of disease and injury. Its connection to elevated rates of physical injury is especially disturbing because many of the victims of alcohol-related accidents are innocent bystanders who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Addiction is of course one of the most common chronic diseases that afflicts those who drink recklessly or habitually, and besides the massive health care costs associated with treatment for dependency, heavy and regular consumption of alcohol also predisposes an individual to other potentially life-altering or life-threatening health conditions such as stroke, early onset dementia, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and cancers of the stomach, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon.
Charting the Geography of Abuse
To one extent or another, every region of the world is adversely affected by alcohol use and misuse, even the areas that are less sparsely populated. However, the CAMH study did uncover some significant differences in consumption patterns between the various continents and geographical regions.
As revealed in the March edition of Addiction, the authors of the CAMH report discovered that:
- The world’s heaviest consumers of alcohol are found in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Drinkers in Eastern Europe and Southern Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rates of problematic consumption (binge drinking or drinking to the point of intoxication).
- The regions with the lowest levels of consumption are North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
- In Canada and the United States, the average alcohol intake among drinkers is 150 percent of the global average.
- Almost 30 percent of all the alcohol consumed around the planet can be categorized as “unrecorded,” meaning that it was brewed at home or manufactured by illegal unlicensed distributers (moonshiners, in the American vernacular).
- Overall, slightly more than 40 percent of the global adult population consumes alcohol.
The high consumption rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe are quite problematic, because both regions have underdeveloped economies that are really struggling to absorb the health care costs associated with so much alcohol abuse. The surprisingly high rates of unrecorded alcohol being consumed also presents special challenges in societies where this behavior is common, since home brewed liquor tends to contain a much higher percentage of alcohol than commercial brands, making it more addictive and more risky to human health in general, and it can often be contaminated with toxic impurities that can cause sickness and even death. In addition, unrecognized alcohol is largely immune to public policy initiatives designed to reduce and control excessive drinking, such as taxation, legal age limits, and strict licensing requirements for retailers.
Assessing the International Implications
Differences in culture and religion do provide some protection from the ravages of alcohol abuse in certain areas of the world. Nevertheless, the statistics detailed in the new CAMH report make it clear that when viewed from a global perspective alcoholism, binge drinking, and reckless behavior associated with alcohol use are inching up toward epidemic levels. Public policy officials everywhere will face a tall task in the years ahead as they attempt to come to grips with the true consequences of alcohol abuse, which in the aggregate is a much bigger problem than illegal drug use. Because alcohol can be purchased and consumed legally in most locations, more substance abuse education combined with an expanded availability of affordable treatment programs for those who suffer from addiction remain the only realistic policy options for authorities hoping to make a positive impact on a problem that is increasing misery and shortening lives all across the planet.
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