The Burden of Alcohol Use

Alcohol linked to increased cancer, injury, death risk in low-income countries

(RxWiki News) New strategies may be needed to curb harmful alcohol use, especially in low-income countries.

A new study from Canada found that harmful alcohol use may be linked to an increased risk of alcohol-related cancers, injury and death in many countries. These threats appeared to be worst in low-income countries, where alcohol use and binge drinking were more common.

"Our data support the call to increase global awareness of the harmful use of alcohol and the need to further identify and target the modifiable determinants of harmful alcohol use," said lead study author Andrew Smyth, PhD, a research fellow in population health at McMaster University, in a press release.

For this study, Dr. Smyth and team looked at data from 12 countries on 115,000 adults. Participants were followed for an average of four years. About 36,000 participants reported using alcohol.

These researchers divided the countries into four groups based on income. Sweden and Canada were labeled high-income countries. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland, South Africa and Turkey were labeled as high middle-income. China and Colombia were low middle-income and India and Zimbabwe were low-income.

Low alcohol use was defined as seven drinks or fewer per week. Moderate use was between seven and 14 drinks per week for women, and seven and 21 drinks per week for men. High alcohol use was defined as more than 14 drinks per week for women, and more than 21 drinks per week for men.

Binge drinking was having more than five drinks in a sitting at least once a month.

Current alcohol use was linked to a 24 percent lower risk of heart attack. But that was the only good news for alcohol.

Alcohol use was not linked to a reduced risk of death or stroke. Those who drank alcohol also had a 51 percent increased risk of alcohol-related cancers, and a 29 percent increased risk of injury compared to nondrinkers.

Among those who consumed a high amount, death risk increased by 31 percent. Similarly, binge drinkers had a 54 percent increased risk of death.

Current alcohol use was linked to a decreased risk of death, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer, injury and hospital admission — but only in higher-income countries. For low -income countries, these risks increased 38 percent.

Excessive alcohol use was also found to be more common in low-income countries, with 1 in 8 participants reporting high intake and 1 in 3 reporting binge drinking.

"Because alcohol consumption is increasing in many countries, especially low middle and low income countries, the importance of alcohol as a risk factor for disease might be underestimated," said study author Salim Yusuf, MD, DPhil, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at McMaster, in a press release. "Therefore, global strategies to reduce harmful use of alcohol are essential."

This study was published Sept. 15 in the journal The Lancet.

Data for this study came from the Prospective Urban Epidemiological (PURE) study.

Dr. Smyth and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 18, 2015