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OECD report: Governments should step up their efforts to tackle harmful alcohol consumption

Investing in policies to reduce harmful alcohol consumption would save millions of lives. The economic benefits of putting them in place would also be much higher than the costs, according to a new OECD report.

Preventing Harmful Alcohol Use estimates that for every USD 1 invested, up to USD 16 is returned in economic benefit, excluding the impact on alcohol-related businesses.

Analysis of 52 OECD, European Union and Group of 20 (G20) countries show that life expectancy will be 0.9 years lower over the next 30 years due to diseases and injuries caused by drinking more than 1 drink per day for women and 1.5 drinks per day for men, corresponding to a lower-risk threshold specifically used for the simulation. This estimate varies widely across countries, which reflects the level of alcohol consumption and the provision of health care services. The largest reductions in life expectancy are estimated in Central and Eastern European countries.

Diseases and injuries from alcohol consumption above 1/1.5 drinks per day cause medical costs equal to about 2.4% of total health expenditure each year. Combined with the impact on labour force productivity, it is estimated that GDP will be 1.6% lower on average in OECD countries annually over the next 30 years, varying from 0.2% in Turkey to 3.8% in Lithuania.

The report includes analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s drinking habits. It finds a higher number of people reporting an increase in volume and frequency of drinking compared to the number drinking less. In Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, overall alcohol sales slightly increased by 3-5% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to preliminary estimates.

During the lockdowns, women, parents of young children, people with higher income and those with anxiety and depressive symptoms reported the highest increase in alcohol consumption, for instance in Australia, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Emergency calls about domestic violence rose by 60% in EU countries.

The report reveals that harmful patterns of alcohol consumption, such as underage, heavy or binge drinking, are highly prevalent in some population groups. Monthly binge drinking is a habit for one in three adults in OECD countries. Women with higher education and people with the lowest and the highest incomes are particularly at risk.

Analysis of national efforts to reduce harmful alcohol consumption reveals that in many countries the implementation of policies on the ground and their effectiveness are hindered by poor implementation, limited resources or practical problems.

A comprehensive approach, including limiting the promotion of alcohol to children, better police enforcement to prevent alcohol-related traffic injuries, expanding coverage of counselling for patients with harmful alcohol consumption, and price policies to limit the affordability of alcohol, particularly for cheap alcohol, would have the biggest impact, according to the report.

The report, together with a policy brief and country notes, is available at

For more information, journalists should contact Michele Cecchini of the OECD’s Health Division or Spencer Wilson of the OECD Media Office (+ 33 1 45 24 97 00).

Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

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