Harmful alcohol consumption is linked to increased risk of alcohol-related cancers, injury and death in many countries, especially lower income ones where harmful alcohol use is more common, a study published in The Lancet reported.

Researchers from McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences collected data from 12 countries divided into four income groups: high, high middle, low middle and low. Among the 115,000 adults followed for an average of about four years, just more than 3 in 10, or 36,000 people, reported drinking alcohol. They found that alcohol is linked to 51% increased risk of alcohol-related cancers (eg, mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, colorectal, breast, ovary, head and neck) and 29% increased risk of injury. An increased risk of death was seen in heavy episodic drinkers (54%) and those with high alcohol intake (31%). Although current drinking was associated with a 24% lower risk of heart attack, they found no reduction in risk of mortality or stroke.

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The authors also identified differences between countries of different levels of prosperity. For higher income countries, current drinking (regular alcohol consumption during the previous year) was associated with a 16% reduction in the risk of a combination of all outcomes (death, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer, injury and hospital admission), but there was a 38% increased risk in lower income countries. Harmful alcohol use was more common in lower income countries, where 1 in 8 drinkers had high levels of alcohol intake and 1 in 3 had a heavy episodic drinking pattern.

Andrew Smyth, PhD, lead author and research fellow at McMaster University stated, “Our data support the call to increase global awareness of the harmful use of alcohol and the need to further identify and target the modifiable determinants of harmful alcohol use.” Salim Yusuf, MD, senior author added, “Because alcohol consumption is increasing in many countries, especially low middle and low income countries, the importance of alcohol as a risk factor for disease might be underestimated. Therefore, global strategies to reduce harmful use of alcohol are essential.”

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