Hello friends. Welcome to the HIFA Alcohol Discussion Forum.
My name is Eduardo and I am a member of the HIFA working group on Alcohol Use Disorders.
We are starting the first week of our Forum and we want to know your opinions on different aspects related to alcohol consumption.
Let's start with these ones:
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF ALCOHOL?
According to WHO, these consequences are enormous: ‘Alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. Overall, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease. (1)
The WHO Fact Sheet on Alcohol also reminds us that ‘The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions’.
Evidence suggests that alcohol plays a causal role in many health and social problems, including coronary heart disease, some cancers, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, suicide, and interpersonal violence. The harm caused by alcohol consumption is not limited to the individuals who drink, but can affect third parties, causing deaths or injuries due to: violence, traffic accidents, fetal alcohol syndrome due to prenatal exposure and child abuse. (2)
However, the epidemiological trend shows continued growth in both alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems in many countries in all regions of the world.
DO PEOPLE FULLY UNDERSTAND THESE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES?
I am convinced that the answer is No.
In my experience, there is a pervasive lack of understanding about the consequences of alcohol on health. This is the case in the general population, among policymakers, and even among health professionals.
Why are people unaware of the risks?
One reason is that we don’t talk about it. In many countries, alcohol consumption is totally embedded in social life. There are deeply socially rooted beliefs and myths that naturalize this consumption, even when it is excessive or risky.
About 2 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, and many of them do so regularly or even daily. A staggering 280 million of them have Alcohol Use Disorders.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves frequent or excessive alcohol use that becomes difficult to control and causes problems in relationships, work, school, family, or other areas. This terminology comes from the DSM-V and integrates two disorders, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence (DSM-IV), with mild, moderate and severe subclassifications. American Psychiatric Association. (3)(4)
Another reason is that alcohol use disorders are hidden.
It is only when a person enters the most severe stages of alcohol dependence that the situation becomes visible. Physical illness such as cirrhosis is slow to develop and can be symptom-free until it is well-advanced. A person who drinks and drives may not be apparent until he or she causes the death of an innocent person as a result of alcohol.
Indeed, it can be argued that alcohol use disorders are the single most important cause of harm to others (accidents, violence, gender-based violence).
What do you think about it?
Dr. Eduardo Bianco
Director, Addiction Training Program for Health Professionals (ATHP)
HIFA profile: Eduardo Bianco is a medical doctor and Cardiologist, Certified Tobacco Cessation Expert with a Masters in Prevention and Treatment of Addictive Disorders. Currently, he is Chair of the World Heart Federation Tobacco Expert Group. Dr. Biancos research examines tobacco control and cessation, and he is a prominent member of several organizations that address tobacco control in Latin America. Dr. Bianco has worked for 25 years in Uruguay and Latin America to promote and train in smoking cessation treatment and tobacco control policies. He is also the former Regional Coordinator for the Americas of the Framework Convention Alliance and former Technical Director of the MOH Center for International Cooperation for Tobacco. ebianco AT nextgenu.org