OECD: Alcohol Use, Health Risks Overview

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its “Health at a Glance” review for 2019. The review shows that alcohol continues to be one of the main causes of preventable mortality in OECD countries together with ischaemic heart disease, road accidents and lung cancer. The OECD also found that unhealthy lifestyles – notably smoking, alcohol use and obesity – are the root cause of many chronic health conditions, cutting lives short and worsening quality of life.

Alcohol use is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, particularly in those of working age,” the OECD writes in the report.

Health at a Glance compares key indicators for population health and health system performance across OECD members, candidate and partner countries – and includes alcohol.

Alcohol consumption averaged 9 litres of pure alcohol per person per year across OECD countries, equivalent to almost 100 bottles of wine.

Alcohol use accounted for an estimated 7% of male and 2% of female deaths worldwide in 2016. Nearly 4% of adults were alcohol dependent. Even low and moderate alcohol consumption increases the long-term risk of these diseases. Alcohol also contributes to more accidents and injuries, violence, homicide, suicide and mental health disorders than any other psychoactive substance, particularly among young people.

Alcohol policy solutions

Policies addressing alcohol harm include population-based strategies and those that target people with heavy alcohol use and alcohol use disorders.

  • All OECD countries apply taxes to alcoholic beverages, but the level of taxes differs greatly.
  • In addition, some countries have implemented new forms of pricing policies, such as minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland.
  • Advertising regulations exist in most OECD countries, but law enforcement and the forms of media included in these regulations (e.g. printed newspapers, billboards, the internet and TV) varies. In Norway, Finland and Lithuania, for instance, there are complete bans on TV adverts, including on social media, while other countries set only partial limitations.
  • Controls on the physical availability, legal age limit and hours of sale; and driving under the influence of alcohol rules are other commonly used policies in OECD countries.

Mental health problems are a heavy burden

Mental health is a vital component of individual well-being as well as social and economic participation. However, many OECD countries consider that their mental health care is inadequate.

It is estimated that about one in five people experience a mental health problem in any given year, while every second individual will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, according to the IHME 2019. The most common mental health problems are:

  1. Anxiety disorder (5.1% of the population),
  2. Depressive disorders (4.5%),
  3. Alcohol and other drug use disorders (2.9%).

The economic and social costs of mental ill-health are significant. Direct spending on mental health services was estimated to account for around 13% of total health spending – or 1.3% of GDP – across EU countries in 2015.

But larger costs are also borne outside of the health system. Lower employment rates and productivity of people with mental health issues incur economic impact equivalent to 1.6% of GDP in EU countries; with greater spending on social security programmes, such as disability benefits or paid sick leave, accounting for a further 1.2% of GDP.


OECD (2019), Health at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/4dd50c09-en.

Source Website: OECD