Reducing alcohol- related harm in Europe

Europe is the region with the highest consumption of alcohol per person but looking only at the drinking population, it ranks third after Africa and S.E. Asia according to WHO. Yet, high levels of consumption do not equal high levels of harm.

Per capita consumption across Europe (WHO – For people aged 15+)

Europeans drink much less than they did 30 years ago – a downward trend that WHO predicts will continue until 2025. Unfortunately, alcohol-related harms have not followed the same trend. Equating consumption to harm is therefore a false premise. 

More than 80% of the population aged 15+ represent moderate drinkers and numerous scientific studies show that, on the contrary, otherwise healthy adults who consume alcoholic beverages in moderation may face a lower risk for a number of conditions, in particular age-related risks such a coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, diabetes and dementia.

Alcohol abuse results in adverse consequences such as liver cirrhosis, reduced work capability, injury, social disorder, costs to healthcare systems. Alcohol dependence is itself a serious illness, with consequences also for the person’s family and third parties.  While alcohol-related harms are found in all countries, the scale of the problems varies from country to country –depending on a complex mix of cultural, social and economic drivers.

As stated by the WHO, it is important to understand that “alcohol-related harm is determined (…), by three related dimensions of drinking (irrespective of the choice of beverages): the volume of alcohol consumed, the pattern of drinking and, on rare occasions, also the quality of alcohol consumed.” there is clearly a cultural complexity to alcohol consumption in Europe and alcohol-related harm is largely related to high risk drinking behaviour.

European spirits producers are actively engaged in changing risky drinking behaviours and attitudes toward alcohol consumption.

Our sector’s long term commitment is reflected in hundreds of prevention initiatives (link to infographics) put in place since 2006 when the first EU Strategy on alcohol (and related Alcohol & Health Forum) was adopted in 2006. Many of these initiatives are run in the individual countries by local producers together with their stakeholders (full detailed report 2018).  Most of the initiatives include measurement and evaluation processes to quantify the progress made and adjust the strategy as necessary.

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“We survey the drinking pattern of women visiting us for the first time. We encourage them not to drink during pregnancy to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related birth defect”
Hélène Bourges, Midwife in Paris