Any alcohol use, regardless of the amount, leads to loss of healthy life.

This is according to findings of a new scientific study, which was recently published in the international medical journal, The Lancet.

According to the study, in 2016, nearly three million deaths globally were attributed to alcohol use, including 12 percent of deaths in males between the ages of 15 and 49.

World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, said alcohol is an addictive agent just like tobacco.

He said there is an understanding among people that moderate consumption of alcohol does not affect health and rather some people believe that consuming a little amount of alcohol is good for their health.

The study, which assesses alcohol-related health outcomes and patterns between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories by age and sex, states that alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss.

“We found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and the level of consumption that minimizes health loss is zero,” it states.

The senior author of the study, Dr Emmanuela Gakidou stated in the study that the health risks associated with alcohol were massive.

“Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems,” he said.  

“Zero alcohol consumption minimises the overall risk of health loss.”

The other fact, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus said is that alcohol is linked to a wide range of diseases. “This is the direct effect of alcohol for those who consume alcohol.”

Alcohol, he said also has many indirect effects that cause family, relationship and, social problems. “In the end, the country as a whole gets affected. If there are more people directly or indirectly suffering from issues related to alcohol, that means we need to invest more in health care.”

The study does not distinguish between beer, wine, and liquor due to lack of evidence when estimating the disease burden. However, researchers used data on all alcohol-related deaths generally and related health outcomes to determine their conclusions.

The study states that depending on where one lives there are vast differences in who drinks and how much each drinker consumes on average. “Alcohol is the leading risk factor for ill health in men and women aged 15 to 49 years.”

Dr Rui said WHO has a global strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol. Of the ten areas for national action, leadership, awareness, and commitment are one of the strategies to reduce harmful use of alcohol.

He said that it’s important to convince oneself that alcohol consumption is not good.

While tax from alcohol contributes to the country’s revenue, he said its economic burden is much more.  “If we compare the balance between what alcohol contributes to the income and the spending on health care as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity and premature deaths in the society, the economic losses are huge.”

“These are the things that we need to look at,” he said. “If you have healthier people then the country will definitely prosper.”

He said it’s important to continue to create awareness on the harmful effects of alcohol. “With leadership and with the awareness, we should commit to act on it, not only in the policies but in the implementation. This is more important.”

In Bhutan, he said alcohol is easily available. “This is one fact that we need to work on. If the policy is there, then the implementation is the challenge. Suspending the issuance of bar license in Bhutan is a good initiative. But we should not stop there.”

According to the study, he said that more than 50 percent of the alcohol consumption in Bhutan is of home-brewed. “How can we address this? Just one agency, the WHO or the health ministry cannot address this issue. We need to work in collaboration with all the stakeholders to address this public health problem.”

“We appreciate the result of the study. WHO is a learning organisation, we always try to adopt and adapt new evidence of any health condition.”

The study states that these results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption. “There is an urgent need to educate people on the harmful effects of alcohol, encourage people to consider not drinking, and lower overall consumption globally.”

The health ministry officials were not available to respond to Kuensel’s queries.


Dechen Tshomo