December 10, 2018
Guest blog post by Patrick Bailey, a professional writer focusing on mental illness and addiction graduated at Central Michigan University.
Retaining the unenviable ‘title’ as the world’s heaviest drinkers for more than a decade now, Europeans have recognized the health consequences of alcohol consumption to the drinker and to those around him. The European Union and the World Health Organization have worked together to develop policies and programs to reduce the harms of excessive alcohol use across the whole EU.
There will be a few individuals who will succumb to alcohol misuse and who will need treatment. The decision to undergo treatment for alcohol dependence will always start with the willingness of the affected person.
Alcohol Consumption in the European Union
Alcohol has been part of European culture for a long time. Approximately 70% of European adults, or seven out of every ten, drink alcohol. This is higher than in other parts of the globe.
Aside from a higher percentage of alcohol drinkers, people in Europe also drink more alcohol than in any other part of the world. The average consumption of Europeans is the equivalent of 10.7 liters of pure alcohol a year. These are figures from the latest updated reports by the World Health Organisation and the European Commission.
The average consumption of alcohol by Europeans show no significant change compared to previous years, and it is still double the world average. What is more alarming is that one out of five Europeans aged 15 and above engage in heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking) at least once a week.
Harms from Alcohol
Alcohol continues to be one of the top causes of deaths among Europeans, with an average of 527 deaths per million people attributable to alcohol. People from the eastern region of EU, which traditionally consume more spirits than beer or wine, have seven times the risk of dying from alcohol than those from the Mediterranean countries. It will be noted that people from southern Europe consume alcohol more often (through wines taken during meals) and the statistics indicate that Eastern Europeans consume alcohol spirits less often but in more excessive amounts.
The more common alcohol-related illnesses and disorders include alcohol dependence, liver diseases, alcohol-induced cancers, and cardiovascular diseases: alcohol poisoning, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
About 800 Europeans die each day from causes attributable to alcohol. A little less than one-third (29.4%) of alcohol-related death is due to cancer, which is the top cause of death attributable to alcohol, followed by cardiovascular diseases consisting of 19.2%.
The death from injuries attributable to alcohol is 18.3%, and this includes death from road crashes or traffic injuries at 1.7%. Under European laws, driver’s licenses are confiscated from persons found with alcohol abuse, or at least are not allowed to renew their licenses.
Alcohol Harm Reduction
Under the strategic framework of Health, 2020 which was drafted in 2012, the World Health Organisation, the European Union and its member nations have made evidence-based efforts to curb alcohol use and improve the overall health of Europeans.
At the EU level, the Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Action (CNAPA), composed of delegates appointed by EU countries, facilitates sharing of best practices and convergence of policies on alcohol use among EU countries. Another platform for comparison of approaches and actions to address the harmful effects of alcohol is the EU Health and Alcohol Forum.
The EU Health Programme funds the Reducing Alcohol Related Harm (RARHA) — Joint Actions and Projects, which has so far released several work packages consisting of survey results and public awareness toolkits which may be used by school-based and community groups.
The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda complements the initial Health 2020 framework and further supports evidence-based interventions to prevent alcohol misuse. Current policy trends are in the areas of alcohol pricing regulation, alcohol marketing restrictions, and curbing drink-driving.
Prevention of Abuse
The recent months’ debates on EU policies on alcohol center on the proper labeling of alcoholic products. Previously, the breweries are on a privileged status with a self-regulatory regime with regards to labeling. The Commission believes that the consumers have the right to know.
Meantime, in Ireland, an EU country where alcohol has had devastating effects, the Irish Senate had passed a legislation introducing a minimum alcohol pricing and labeling. The label should show the calorie count of the alcohol per 100 ml, plus a warning on the links of alcohol and cancer. The new legislation also restricts alcohol advertising and bans advertising in bus stops, train stations, and public parks.
Earlier, in May, Scotland had passed a legislation fixing minimum selling price for alcohol, in order to prevent alcoholism. Almost all EU countries levy excise taxes on alcohol, and it is viewed as another of several measures that limit the sale of alcoholic drinks.
With all the preventive measures put in place, there is still danger that individuals will still develop tolerance to and dependence on alcohol. In such cases, the health service response, and the community and workplace action (these two are part of the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 (EAPA) action points) shall be instrumental in providing the right environment for recovery from alcohol. It will always help to remember that rehabilitation starts with the willingness of the patient to accept treatment.Guest contributor