Every day, about 800 people in Europe die from alcohol-attributable causes

According to a recently published WHO fact sheet, Europe is still challenged by the need to reduce the burden of alcohol. Levels of alcohol consumption, and harm attributable to alcohol, remain very high – causing about 800 deaths a day.

The data further show that almost half of the adult male population of the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland are at significant risk of both short and long-term health and social problems due to their engagement in heavy episodic drinking.

Unchanged alcohol consumption per capita

Although heavy episodic drinking and alcohol-attributable mortality have decreased, alcohol consumption per capita has not changed significantly. “It is striking to see that 8 years into the United Nations targets [to reduce harmful use of alcohol by 10%], and 26 years since the first European Alcohol Action Plan, alcohol is still responsible for about 300 000 deaths in Europe, representing about 800 deaths per day that could have been totally avoided,” says Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, WHO/Europe Programme Manager for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs.

One third of all alcohol-attributable deaths related to cancer
A large part of the harm to adult drinkers in the 28 EU member states, Norway and Switzerland is related to cancer. Almost one third of all alcohol-attributable deaths are related to cancer; in 2016 it was responsible for more than 85 000 cases. “Evidence shows that hazardous and harmful drinking can cause cancer, and these cancers are 3 times more common in men than in women,” says Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

New WHO fact sheet

The new WHO fact sheet was launched on 19 November in Edinburgh, Scotland during the final meeting of the “Monitoring of national policies related to alcohol consumption and harm reduction” (MOPAC) project. Speaking at the meeting, WHO adviser, Professor Jürgen Rehm pointed out: "Trends in alcohol consumption and alcohol-attributable harm are not arbitrary – they are shaped by decisions and action, most importantly alcohol policy. We see that even neighboring countries with the same history and tradition of drinking show different trends in both consumption and harm, pointing to the importance of alcohol policy in the field".

Within the framework of this EU-funded 3-year project, WHO developed a snapshot of alcohol consumption, alcohol-related mortality and alcohol policy responses in the 28 EU member states, Norway and Switzerland in 2016, and compared it with the situation in 2010. Full data on the issue will be presented in the “Alcohol status report 2018 – Alcohol consumption, harm and policy responses in the 30 European countries”, which will be published in early 2019.