Alcohol consumption and non-communicable diseases: epidemiology and policy implications

Addiction. 2011 Oct;106(10):1718-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03605.x.


Aims: This paper summarizes the relationships between different patterns of alcohol consumption and various on non-communicable disease (NCD) outcomes and estimates the percentage of NCD burden that is attributable to alcohol.

Methods: A narrative review, based on published meta-analyses of alcohol consumption-disease relations, together with an examination of the Comparative Risk Assessment estimates applied to the latest available revision of Global Burden of Disease study.

Results: Alcohol is causally linked (to varying degrees) to eight different cancers, with the risk increasing with the volume consumed. Similarly, alcohol use is related detrimentally to many cardiovascular outcomes, including hypertension, haemorrhagic stroke and atrial fibrillation. For other cardiovascular outcomes the relationship is more complex. Alcohol is furthermore linked to various forms of liver disease (particularly with fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis) and pancreatitis. For diabetes the relationship is also complex. Conservatively, of the global NCD-related burden of deaths, net years of life lost (YLL) and net disability adjusted life years (DALYs), 3.4%, 5.0% and 2.4%, respectively, can be attributed to alcohol consumption, with the burden being particularly high for cancer and liver cirrhosis. This burden is especially pronounced in countries of the former Soviet Union.

Conclusions: There is a strong link between alcohol and non-communicable diseases, particularly cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, pancreatitis and diabetes, and these findings support calls by the World Health Organization to implement evidence-based strategies to reduce harmful use of alcohol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cost of Illness
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Pancreatitis / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors


  • Ethanol