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Alcohol harm: obstacle to development, barrier to health for all 

The pervasive impact of alcohol harm is a global health emergency. The crisis is made worse by widespread inertia, the corrosive interference of Big Alcohol, and lack of awareness of the real harms of alcohol.

Pervasive alcohol harm

  • Every 10 seconds a human being dies = 3 million alcohol-related deaths per year
  • Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions
  • Alcohol use causes death, disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20–39 years ca. 13.5 % of all deaths are alcohol-attributable [1]

Astronomical costs

Eroding economic productivity: Alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49 years.

  • Alcohol accounts for 10% of all deaths in this age group [2]

Jeopardizing economic sustainability: Alcohol harm costs up to 5.44% of Growth Domestic Product in some countries. [3]

  • India: Even after adjusting for tax receipts from the alcohol trade, alcohol poses a net economic loss of $1506 billion. This amounts to an average loss of 1.45% of GDP per year [4]
  • South Africa: Total costs of alcohol use were estimated at 10-12 % of GDP in 2009 [5]

Systemic inaction

In 2013, countries committed themselves to a 10% reduction of per-capita alcohol use. In 2015, this commitment was reaffirmed by the inclusion of SDG 3.5.2 into the Agenda 2030.

Despite these commitments, the reality remains worrying:

  • Until 2030, alcohol per-capita consumption is expected to grow by 17% [6]
  • Global goals for reducing alcohol use and harm are unlikely to be achieved [6]

Progress on alcohol-related SDGs has stalled and can easily be lost [7]

Reality versus potential

The reality is troublesome but evidence shows that there is vast untapped potential in alcohol policy measures to turn the tide on the global health emergency.

In 2012, alcohol excise taxes were on average less than 20% of retail price [8]

In 2010, the World Health Report showed:

Raising taxes on alcohol to 40% of the retail price could have an even bigger impact than a 50% increase in tobacco taxation. Estimates for 12 low-income countries show that consumption levels would fall by more than 10%, while tax revenues would more than triple to a level amounting to 38% of total health spending in those countries. [9]

For further reading:

It’s Time To Deliver On Alcohol Control

 Evidence sources:

[1] Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO

[2] Collaborators GBDA. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet (London, England) 2018;392(10152):1015-35. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2 [published Online First: 2018/08/28]

[3] Thavorncharoensap M, Teerawattananon Y, Yothasamut J, Lertpitakpong C, Chaikledkaew U. The economic impact of alcohol consumption: a systematic review. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2009;4:20. Published 2009 Nov 25. doi:10.1186/1747-597X-4-20

[4] Jyani, G., Prinja, S., Ambekar, A., Bahuguna, P. and Kumar, R. (2019). Health impact and economic burden of alcohol consumption in India. International Journal of Drug Policy, 69, pp.34-42.

[5] Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health (2019). Health Taxes to Save Lives: Employing Effective Excise Taxes on Tobacco, Alcohol, and Sugary Beverages. Chairs: Michael R. Bloomberg and Lawrence H. Summers. New York: Bloomberg Philanthropies. Available at:

[6] Jakob Manthey, Kevin D Shield, Margaret Rylett, Omer S M Hasan, Charlotte Probst, Jürgen Rehm, Global alcohol exposure between 1990 and 2017 and forecasts until 2030: a modelling study, The Lancet, 2019, , ISSN 0140-6736,

[7] Report by the Director-General, A72/11: ”Implementation of the
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, p.1

[8] Global status report on alcohol and health 2014. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014.

[9] World Health Report 2010: The world health report: health systems financing: the path to universal coverage. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010. ISBN 978 92 4 068480 5 (electronic version)

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