Alcohol Use Disorders (29) Do people understand the harms of alcohol? (4) How can they be better informed?

8 February, 2024

Thanks to James Mawanda (Uganda) for reminding us that alcohol is linked to more than 200 diseases. In terms of comprehensive knowledge, there are few if any who could describe all of them, and probably none in any detail. Even if it were possible to have that knowledge, this does not equate to a deep understanding of the implications. Arguably it is this deep understanding - linked but not equivalent to knowledge - that enables an informed choice. Understanding may be strengthened by personal experience, such as being witness to how alcohol can wreck a loved one's life, and perhaps especially so for the individual who is recovering from an alcohol use disorder.

A deep understanding of the harms of alcohol is arguably less likely among adolescents and young adults. When we are young there is a tendency not to look far into the future, to live for the day, as if immortal. We may hear and see about the harms of alcohol (and tobacco) and just ignore them, thinking 'this may happen to other unfortunate people, but it won't happen to me'.

I would be very interested to hear what approaches work to promote understanding of the harms of alcohol, especially among young people. How can they be better informed?

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: