The Impact of Unrecorded Alcohol Use on Health: What Do We Know in 2020?
About 25% of global alcohol consumption is unrecorded, that is, concerns alcohol not registered in the country where it is consumed. Unrecorded alcohol includes homemade, illicit, or surrogate alcohols. The aim of this review is to update the evidence on unrecorded alcohol and its impact on health.
A narrative review and qualitative synthesis of scientific literature (English and Russian) for the period 2016–2020 was conducted.
A total of 100 articles were included in the synthesis. The most harm because of unrecorded alcohol seems to be caused by ethanol, although single and mass methanol poisonings constitute exceptions. Nevertheless, unrecorded consumption is associated with disproportionate harm that goes beyond toxicity, which is linked to hazardous alcohol use patterns of unrecorded alcohol, and its association with alcohol use disorders and social marginalization. The online sale of unrecorded alcohol, which circumvents alcohol availability regulations, is an emerging and not yet well-explored issue.
Policy options include restricting access to methanol, increasing taxation, denaturing ethanol-containing liquids that could be used as surrogates, introducing more effective and less toxic denaturizing additives, and improving monitoring systems for fraud, tax evasion, and local sales restrictions, including raising the minimum legal age for alcohol use. These measures should be implemented within a holistic policy framework to avoid unintended effects, such as an increase in total alcohol consumption, shifts from certain types of unrecorded products to potentially toxic alternatives, or limiting economic activity and jeopardizing the livelihoods of vulnerable populations (e.g., women comprise the majority of those making homebrew in some countries).