Drinking alcohol is a familiar part of daily life for approximately 2.3 billion people around the world. It’s a habit we won’t curb any time soon; experts predict that global consumption of booze will only increase over the next ten years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), that’s a problem. In a report released Friday, the United Nations agency announced that alcohol contributed to more than 3 million deaths in 2016.
While these deaths may have differed in detail, their uniting link is alcohol. In the report the WHO states that:
“Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent were due to injuries, such as those from traffic crashes, self-harm and interpersonal violence; 21 percent due to digestive disorders; 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder due to infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders, and other health conditions.”
That translates to 370,000 deaths due to road injuries, 150,000 due to self-harm, and around 90,000 due to interpersonal violence around the world. Of the road injuries, approximately 187,000 deaths were those of people who were not driving, according to the report. In the United States, for example, 29 people die every day in a crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver.
Despite the conventional wisdom that a glass of wine a day is good for you, it’s becoming increasingly clear that health is negatively impacted by alcohol. In August an analysis published in The Lancet declared that the best amount of alcohol to drink is no alcohol and to think otherwise is believing in “a myth.”
While light drinking won’t kill you, scientists are now more certain than ever before that alcohol is linked to a variety of maladies. A study published in June in PLOS Medicine found that the lifetime risk of cancer was lowest in light drinkers and increased with every additional drink per week. Scientists believe that heavy drinking increases the chances of developing cancer because alcohol can damage the DNA of stem cells, a process that can cause the development of cancerous tumors. Alcohol is also thought to interfere with the function of the gastrointestinal tract. And the American Heart Association states that drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood, which can cause high blood pressure and heart failure.
Related: This is what happens to your brain when you’re drunk.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” Vladimir Poznyak, M.D., Ph.D., coordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse unit, said Friday. “Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.”
Currently, alcohol use disorders are more common in high-income countries. Rates of these disorders are the highest in Europe, followed by the Americas, which includes both North and South America. In the United States alone, approximately 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older are believed to have alcohol use disorder, which is defined by an inability to limit drinking, becoming consumed with the need to drink, and continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems.
If you’re experiencing problems with abuse, the free, confidential helpline provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services is 1-800-662-4357.