A Look At Worldwide Alcohol Consumption
March 4, 2013

A Look At Worldwide Alcohol Consumption

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com — Your University Online

When examining the history of alcohol, we find it runs parallel to much of recorded human history. Throughout time, the use of alcohol has played an important role in religion and worship. Additionally, its use has provided nutrients and provided medicinal, antiseptic and analgesic properties.

In early Egyptian culture, both beer and wine were deified and presented to their gods. Cellars and winepresses were represented by a deity whose hieroglyph was a winepress. And alcohol wasn´t only to be enjoyed in this plane of existence. The use of alcohol for funerary purposes involved the storage of the beverage in the tomb of the dearly departed so they might use it in the after-life.

Individual enjoyment of alcohol has also been recognized. Whether consumed as a social lubricant or as an accompaniment to a fine meal, the benefits of drinking have long been documented. Misuse of alcohol, while also very well documented, typically only refers to a minority of drinkers.

In fact, in ancient times, the practice of habitual drunkenness was a rarity. This is not to say, however, that over-imbibing at banquets and festivals was unusual. One such event, known as the symposium, was a gathering of Greek men for an evening of conversation, entertainment and drinking. The evening typically culminated in the intoxication of the attendees. By 425 BC, however, warnings against intemperance, especially at symposia, had increased in their weight and frequency.

Despite the importance of temperance and moderation held by early cultures, it has been pointed out that historical accounts of alcohol and its moderate users are often overshadowed by their more boisterous counterparts who added a certain color to history. Therefore, those individuals who regularly enjoyed the drink typically received a disproportionate amount of attention. The abuse of alcohol can be problematic, on both the personal and societal level. Inebriates, through their actions, are highly visible characters and their exploits have often led to the implementation of legislation across different times and cultures. Conversely, the moderate drinker tends not to draw the ire of the community and, therefore, has been overlooked by the writers of history.

While alcohol, with all of its benefits and ills, has been around for most all of human history, a new study, conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) out of Canada, reports alcohol is now the third leading cause of both disease and injury worldwide. These findings were reached despite the fact most adults actually abstain from drinking.

Kevin Shield, lead author of the study, and colleagues published their findings, a part of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study, in this month´s issue of the journal Addiction. The study showed Canadians, in particular, drank more than 50 percent above what is considered the global average.

"Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries," said Shield. "These include not only well-known outcomes of drinking such as liver cirrhosis or traffic accidents, but also several types of cancer, such as female breast cancer."

To arrive at their findings, the team calculated a 2010 estimate based upon the amount and patterns of alcohol consumption by country from a 2005 study. What they were able to determine was there are vast differences by geographical region in the numbers of people who consume alcohol, the amount they drink and the general pattern of drinking.

For instance, Shield and colleagues determined the hardest drinkers reside in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Alcohol drinkers in these areas also consume alcohol in what is considered to be an unhealthy manner, often binge drinking to complete intoxication irrespective of whether a meal was consumed or not.

Northern Africans, along with those living in the Middle East and South Asia were the most temperate drinkers on Earth. This may be a result of strong religious and cultural mores that frown on, and even punish, drunkenness.

On our own continent, as mentioned above, the team determined we are very liberal with our libation consumption. Our patterns of drinking have been noted as being fairly detrimental, especially since one recurrent pattern was that of excessive binge drinking.

Worldwide, the global burden of disease and injury associated with the use of alcohol is sizeable. The team states, for the year 2010, alcohol was responsible for 5.5 percent of the overall global burden. This places alcohol use in third place, just behind high blood pressure and tobacco use. In all, the Global Burden of Disease and Injury evaluates 67 total risk factors.

It is important to note that Shield´s study is a compiled summary of the results from multiple population surveys, sales and production data, and additional data on alcohol consumption that is not covered in official records. Their research covered every country, territory and region on the planet.

One particularly interesting aspect of the 2005 study showed nearly 30 percent of alcohol consumed was categorized as “unrecorded” alcohol. This designation refers to alcohol that was not intended for consumption, along with home-brewed and illegally produced alcohols. There are some regions on the globe where this unrecorded alcohol accounted for greater than half of all alcohol consumed in the area.

"The amount of unrecorded alcohol consumed is a particular problem, as its consumption is not impacted by public health alcohol policies, such as taxation, which can moderate consumption," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, a study author and director of CAMH's Social and Epidemiological Research Department.

"Improving alcohol control policies presents one of the greatest opportunities to prevent much of the health burden caused by alcohol consumption," said Shield "To improve these policies, information on how much alcohol people are consuming, and how people are consuming alcohol is necessary, and that is exactly the information this article presents."

Throughout the course of human history, there has always been a minority that finds just too much enjoyment in the drink. This minority, however, has not deterred the occasional use by the majority who have clearly found benefit in beers, Bordeaux´s and bourbons. It was the founding Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism who said, ““¦alcohol has existed longer than all human memory. It has outlived generations, nations, epochs and ages. It is a part of us, and that is fortunate indeed. For although alcohol will always be master of some, for most of us it will continue to be the servant of man.”