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HEALTH REPORT - WHO: Alcohol Can Kill

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When does social drinking become the kind of problem drinking that can kill?  (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
When does social drinking become the kind of problem drinking that can kill? (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

Many people all over the world enjoy an alcoholic drink, such as wine or beer, during dinner. Many people raise a glass of alcohol to celebrate a wedding or a birthday. And having drinks after work with friends and co-workers is called "happy hour." And I'm sure many people are celebrating World Cup victories with a glass of beer.

All these situations are considered social drinking because they happen at social events.

But when does social drinking become problem drinking?

According to the World Health Organization alcohol abuse kills 3.3 million people each year. That is six percent of all deaths around the world.

And in a new report on alcohol use around the world, the WHO says alcohol can create dependency, or addiction, in some people. The report also warns that alcohol use can increase the risk of developing more than 200 diseases, including some kinds of cancers. And, the WHO says alcohol abuse can put people at greater risk of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and HIV.

Beer on tap.
Beer on tap.

WHO Mental Health and Substance Abuse Director Shekhar Saxena says the organization is concerned about drinking among young people between the ages 15 and 19. And it is most concerned about binge-drinking, or an extended period of heavy drinking.

"The report concludes that worldwide 16 percent of drinkers over the age of 15 engage in binge-drinking, which is much more harmful than other kind of drinking ... which causes the most harm in terms of accidents, self-harm and harm to others. High income countries have the highest alcohol per capita consumption and also the highest prevalence of binge-drinking."

The report warns of a few other worrying trends. For example, women should take special note. The report warns that more women are drinking alcohol. And, the report says women are at greater risk than men for some alcohol-related health conditions.

The report also found that the highest rates of alcohol-linked deaths are in Europe, followed by the West Pacific and then the Americas. The report also finds Europe is the area with the highest alcohol use. Central and Eastern Europe are especially high. The WHO says people in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and some neighboring countries drink a lot of alcohol and binge drink.

Men sleep on a bench in downtown Moscow after drinking.
Men sleep on a bench in downtown Moscow after drinking.

Vladimir Poznyak is the WHO Management of Substance Abuse Coordinator. He says less alcohol is used in Africa than in Europe. But, he adds, the health effects are worse in Africa because of a lack of, what he calls, buffering factors -- things like social support systems and health care.

"The difference is that in African region as well as in other countries with less resources, the consumption of alcohol brings more harm to health and to social relationship because of the absence of buffering factors, which are often like social support, like access to health care services. This is what is lacking."

The World Health Organization suggests ways countries can protect people from alcohol abuse. These include increasing taxes on alcohol sales, raising the drinking age limit, and controlling the marketing of alcoholic beverages.

And that's the Health Report.

This report was written by Lisa Schlein in Geneva.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Cheers!

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