A 2022 survey conducted by the Ministry of Health reveals that the number of people who want to go alcohol-free has quadrupled in recent years. The statistic has increased from 6.5% in 2014 to 24.9% in 2022.
The development clearly reflects growing recognition of the real effects of alcohol and the benefits of reducing and quitting alcohol among the people in El Salvador.
The National Alcohol and Tobacco Survey also reveals that the desire to quit alcohol is higher among men than women. 25.3% of male alcohol users want to quit while the percentage is slightly lower among women at 23.1%.
The increase in people’s preference to live alcohol-free is significant considering El Salvador’s alcohol burden.
Alcohol Harm affects the youth of El Salvador disproportionately
The National Mental Health Survey carried out in the country reveals that alcohol harm remains a major obstacle to full health and wellbeing of the youth of El Salvador. The consumption of alcohol among youth aged 13 and 17 years has reached close to 10% (9.8%). The increase in use occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data gathered from the survey revealed a rather worrying picture of alcohol use in El Salvador.
- 5.7% of youth between 13 and 17 years of age said that they had consumed alcohol at some point in the previous year.
- 9.8% of youth reported that they consumed alcohol on a daily basis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks El Salvador among the countries with the highest rate of years of life lost due to alcohol. While the majority of adults lives alcohol-free (70%), alcohol use disorder is highly prevalent among men in El Salvador (9.3%).
In 2020, the health system attended to 8,463 cases of mental and behavioral disorders due to psychoactive substances. 88.8% of these cases were caused by alcohol.
Alcohol harm places a heavy burden on the healthcare system in El Salvador.
The WHO country profile also illustrates the lack of evidence-based alcohol policy solutions, such as a national alcohol strategy or action plan. Across the alcohol policy best buys, El Salvador has gaps, with too alcohol availability standards, for instance. Experts and authorities emphasize the evidence that the nearly unlimited sale of alcohol drives easy and wide alcohol availability and thus puts children and youth in harm’s way.
The fact that many people in El Salvador are interested in quitting alcohol use is therefore an unique opportunity for the government to take alcohol policy action and support people and communities to live in healthier environments.
Increased number of alcohol users seeking professional help to reduce or quit alcohol use
According to the national survey, 11.9% of respondents said they had looked for professional help to quit their alcohol use. At least 65.6% knew or had heard of support services to help them quit alcohol.
The following data illustrate why more and more people are interested in liberating their lives from alcohol:
- 32% of all respondents have been subjected to being driven by someone under the influence of alcohol.
- 14.8% of all respondents have driven a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
- 6% of all respondents have had members of family or loved ones express concern about their alcohol use.
- 0.6% of all respondents have suffered an injury or have caused injury to another due to the involvement of alcohol.
The survey also contains compelling data on how much people in El Salvador struggle with alcohol use problems:
- At least 13% of respondents said they had been unable to stop consuming alcohol at least once in their lives.
- 9.9% of respondents said they have suffered from guilt and remorse after consuming alcohol.
- 9.5% of all respondents have been unable to recall the events of the night before due to alcohol use.
- 5.8% have been unable to attend to their responsibilities and obligations due to alcohol use.
Close to half of smokers in El Salvador also want to quit smoking
The survey also shows that the exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in homes has increased from 8.3% to 11.9% since 2014. The report also found that 68.6% of all respondents had been exposed to secondhand smoke in public areas where smoking was prohibited. This is despite the fact that only 9.2% of the population used tobacco with or without smoke. Meanwhile, 2% of the population also uses electronic cigarettes.
However, there is also cause for optimism in that close to half of all smokers – about 47.5% – express a desire quit smoking. This is higher for urban areas at 49.2% than in rural ones: 44%. This figure is in direct contrast to the figures for alcohol, where more rural consumers want to stop consuming alcohol (28.6%) than urban consumers (23.1%).
The need for policy support to reduce alcohol harm in El Salvador
The population in El Salvador is showing an increased desire to liberate their lives from the harm caused by alcohol, as many experience alcohol use problems.
These preference and recognition of alcohol’s negative impact in people’s lives and communities is an important opportunity for the government in El Salvador to accelerate alcohol policy action to create healthier environments for people. The implementation of the WHO’s SAFER alcohol policy blueprint has the potential to better assist the people of El Salvador to reduce alcohol consumption and create a healthier society with much less alcohol harm.
The word SAFER is an acronym for the five most well-proven and cost-effective, high-impact policy solutions to reduce and prevent alcohol harm.
1. Strengthen restrictions on alcohol policy
Enacting and enforcing limits on commercial or public availability of alcohol through laws, policies, and programmes are among the best ways to prevent and reduce harm due to alcohol. This is because reduction of easy access to alcohol is key in driving down alcohol consumption.
In El Salvador, placing common sense limits on where alcohol should be present in communities, such as through lowering opening hours and the density of alcohol retail outlets, is an important solution to lower the country’s alcohol burden and better protect people from alcohol harm.
2. Advance and enforce alcohol-impaired driving counter-measures
Road users who are impaired by alcohol have a significantly higher risk of being involved in a crash.
Clearly, alcohol-impaired driving is a significant public health problem in El Salvador. Enacting and enforcing driving under the influence (DUI) laws, such as low blood alcohol concentration limits via sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing, are proven solutions to promote public health and safety.
3. Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions and treatment
Health professionals have an important role in helping people reduce or quit alcohol use.
The data revealed by the national survey also showed that 24.9% of people who consume alcohol are interested in receiving professional help to quit alcohol, further underlining the importance of the healthcare sector in the work to protect people from alcohol harms.
4. Enforce bans on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion
Bans and comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotion are impactful and cost-effective alcohol policy solutions.
Enacting and enforcing bans on exposure to alcohol marketing in the digital world as well as the physical will bring public health benefits and help protect children, adolescents and alcohol abstainers, as well as people in recover or seeking to reduce and quit alcohol, from the pressure to start consuming alcohol or to consume more alcohol.
5. Raise alcohol prices through excise taxes and other pricing policies
Alcohol taxation is the single most high-impact, well-proven, and cost-effective alcohol policy solutions. They reduce the affordability of alcohol and signal lower acceptability of alcohol.
An increase in excise taxes on alcoholic beverages is an important tool for the government of El Salvador to support people in health-seeking behavior, by creating environments that are healthier, and by generating additional revenue for the government to invest in healthcare and health promotion.
The harm caused by alcohol companies to the people and society in El Salvador can be prevented and reduced through the implementation of such proven policy solutions. The people of El Salvador themselves are showing that their society is ripe for change. This presents the government of El Salvador with an unique opportunity to invest in solutions that promote better health outcomes and social progress for the entire country.