Drinking is the World’s Top Killer

In 2011, the Reuters newswire and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported something that most addiction medicine physicians already suspected:  Alcohol causes at least 4% of preventable deaths worldwide, now topping AIDS, tuberculosis, and violence. 

The WHO report and The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health indicated that alcohol abuse is particularly on the rise in Africa, India, and parts of Asia, causing more incidents of drunk driving, alcohol-related disease, child abuse and neglect, job absenteeism and assaults. The reason? People in these areas are getting wealthier, and they can now afford to purchase alcohol. Binge drinking has also risen dramatically in Russia, the Ukraine, South Africa, Mexico and Kazakhstan; men have weekly heavy drinking episodes four times more often than women, and engage in “hazardous activities” more often when they’re drunk.  The WHO also validated in its report that alcohol is directly linked to more than 60 types of diseases like:

  • Cancer (breast, brain, colorectal, larynx, liver)
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Epilepsy
  • Dementia

Even though many Muslim countries restrict drinking – especially underage drinking – the influence of alcohol on health and riminal behavior is rising in these countries as well. “Not enough countries use effective policies to prevent death, disease and injury attributable to alcohol consumption,” said the WHO report.  An interesting point to note about the report, though, is it discusses the political aspects of alcohol consumption, such as raising taxes on alcohol, rather than discussing education and awareness campaigns for the treatment of alcohol dependence and abuse.

Taxation: A Feasible Action?

How many rich folks would stop drinking if alcohol taxes were higher? It didn’t work with cigarettes in every part of the world, so why would it work with alcohol? America’s own Leona Helmsley even said, “Only the little people pay taxes.” The number of homeless addicts on the streets of New York City pretty much closes the book on the idea that if you want or need your drug, you will do whatever it takes to get it.

American addicts and addiction counselors know that raising taxes on alcohol and restricting marketing techniques to minors likely won’t solve the alcohol over-consumption problem. That said, the addiction recovery programs in the U.S. are second-to-none, which explains why so many non-U.S. citizens either pattern their own programs after ours, or come to America for treatment.

The 2011 report is the WHO’s first since 2004. About 2.5 million people die worldwide each year from alcohol-related causes, and the report says that it’s the leading cause of death for males ages 15 to 59. No matter how you look at the numbers, alcohol has clearly become the number one killer in the world.

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