Adaku Efuribe writes on the health implications of excessive alcohol consumption
In many parts of the world, drinking alcoholic beverages is a common feature of social gatherings and ceremonies. Alcohol is an intoxicating substance, which carries a risk of adverse health and social consequences related to its intoxicating effects. It also has dependence properties. It could lead to addiction if consumption is not well managed.
It leads to increase in the risk of developing some chronic diseases. Alcohol use is also associated with an increased risk of acute illness, social menace and road traffic accidents.
As a clinician when it comes to alcohol consumption, I think about the units, the effects on the body, addiction etc. Experts in the UK have said that men or women should not consume more than 14 units of alcohol in a week, i.e. no more than two units in a day.
So how are the Alcohol units calculated?
‘Using units are a simpler way of representing a drink’s alcohol content – usually expressed by the standard measure known as Alcohol By Volume (ABV). ABV is a measure of the amount of pure alcohol as a percentage of the total volume of liquid in a drink.
You can find the ABV on the labels of cans and bottles, sometimes written as “vol” or “alcohol volume”, or you can ask bar staff about particular drinks.A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine (ABV 13.5 per cent) contains 10 units.
You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000. That is strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units’
Key facts on alcohol according to the WHO
Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol, this represent 5.9 per cent of all deaths.
The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Overall, 5.1 per cent of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability- adjusted life years (DALYs).
Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20 –39 years approximately 25 per cent of the total deaths are alcohol-attributable.There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioral disorders, other non communicable conditions as well as injuries.
The latest causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.
Risks associated with alcohol consumption
Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major non communicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road clashes and collisions.
A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to alcohol consumption arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic crashes, violence, and suicides, and fatal alcohol-related injuries tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.
The latest causal relationships are those between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the cause of HIV/AIDS. Alcohol consumption by an expectant mother may cause fetal alcohol syndrome and pre-term birth complications.
In as much as adults should make their personal choices regarding alcohol consumption, it is also the duty of the government to ensure that alcohol beverages are well regulated and the standardised information regarding pure alcohol content or units is emphasised on the label to help advise the consumers.
Ways to reduce the burden from harmful use of alcohol
The health, safety and socioeconomic problems attributable to alcohol can be effectively reduced and requires actions on the levels, patterns and contexts of alcohol consumption and the wider social determinants of health.
Countries have a responsibility for formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Substantial scientific knowledge exists for policy-makers on the effectiveness and cost–effectiveness of the following strategies:
Regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages (in particular to younger people); regulating and restricting availability of alcohol; enacting appropriate drink-driving policies; reducing demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms; raising awareness of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol and ensuring support for effective alcohol policies; providing accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders; andImplementing screening and brief interventions programmes for hazardous and harmful drinking in health services.
We can see from the information above that the overall risks of excessive alcohol consumption greatly out ways the ‘benefits’. If you find yourself taking excessive alcohol and you would like to cut down on alcohol consumption, please seek medical intervention. If you must drink alcoholic beverages, stay within the recommended limits i.e. 2 units /day and no more than a total 14 units per week.-, and secure a more healthy life.
Efuribe is a Clinical Pharmacist/Health Promotion Ambassador who advocates for better healthcare systems for all