Key Messages

Burden and Imperative

  • Approximately 3 million people die every year as a result of alcohol consumption. This is equivalent to one person every 10 seconds. [1]

  • Alcohol is the leading risk factor globally for premature death and disability for people between the ages of 15 and 49 [2-4]. For those 20 to 39, approximately 25 percent of deaths are attributable to alcohol. [1]

  • Alcohol use and its harms are increasing most markedly in populations where marketing and the use of commercially produced alcohol is expanding. [5]

  • Alcohol is a major global burden, affecting individuals, families and societies, health, social and economic development, and human rights. [1, 6, 7]

  • The harmful use of alcohol is one of the four most common preventable risk factors contributing to a global pandemic of NCDs. [2]

  • Alcohol is a major obstacle to sustainable development, adversely affecting more than half of global development goals. [8]

  • Youths who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin at age 21. [9]

  • Alcohol plays a significant role in violent incidents, including homicide, suicide and sexual violence. [7]

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol increases the risk of a fatal road crash up to 17 times. [10]

  • Alcohol can be toxic, carcinogenic and addictive. [11]


  • The economic costs of alcohol dwarf any positive economic contribution of the alcohol trade by increasing health-care costs, harming productivity in the workplace, jeopardizing the economic sustainability of the health-care and welfare systems, and eroding gross domestic product (GDP). [1, 12]

  • For every dollar invested in reducing the harmful use of alcohol through the three most effective alcohol policies, the return on investment is more than ninefold. [1]

Knowledge and Awareness

  • Harmful alcohol use comprises not only heavy alcohol use but also any consumption that places users or others at risk of acute or chronic illness, injury or violence.

  • Many communities are unaware of the scope of alcohol’s harms, especially the disease burden due to cancers. [14]

  • The general population and policymakers tend to be largely misinformed about the scope of alcohol’s harm to users and others, and they are unaware of the potential of evidence-based policy measures. [14]

Prevention and Policy

  • The best way to minimize the social and health harms from alcohol is to lower consumption overall. [15]

  • The death, disability and injury burdens caused by alcohol are largely preventable. [2]

  • Alcohol consumption is a public health problem that requires a population-wide focus. [1]

  • We know what works to tackle the harmful use of alcohol: Effective, evidence-based measures are available to all countries. [1, 16]

  • Given the harm that alcohol causes, governments and lawmakers have an urgent responsibility to implement and enforce evidence-based legal regulations to protect the health and well-being of their citizens against harmful use.

  • The most effective alcohol policies are taxation, marketing restrictions, regulation of availability, enforcement of drink-driving laws, and screening and brief intervention in primary care. [1, 16]


  • Taxation to raise the cost of alcohol is win-win-win. It reduces consumption, delays the onset of use and generates government revenue. [7]

Regulating Availability

  • Regulating the public availability of and access to alcohol reduces the overall level of harmful use [1,17, 18].

  • Enforcing existing regulations on the availability of alcohol, such as on underage consumption, can generate health benefits [19].

Restricting Advertising

  • Alcohol advertising targets vulnerable populations, including youth and women. [1, 15]

  • Sophisticated marketing contributes to the initiation of alcohol use and to binge drinking. [1, 15, 20]

The Alcohol Industry

  • The alcohol industry and its marketing activities are impediments to implementing sound alcohol policy. [21, 22]

  • The alcohol industry has the financial and political power to block and derail sound public health policies that threaten its profits. [1]

  • The most effective policies are often the ones the alcohol industry opposes the most, and therefore require commitment and courage from political leaders, with support from civil society organizations, to implement and enforce.

  • The alcohol industry often misleadingly frames solutions around the need for better individual behavior and “responsibility” rather than around evidence-based strategies, policies and regulations.

  • Across the world, the alcohol industry uses aggressive marketing tactics that can encourage harmful alcohol use. [1, 15]

  • Voluntary self-regulation of alcohol marketing is not a substitute for legal regulation, but is often used and touted by the industry to distract from the implementation of effective policy measures. [23, 24]

  • The alcohol industry uses a roster of tactics similar to those used by tobacco companies. [25-27]