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No amount of alcohol consumption is healthy

Customers queue at a liquor store in Varkala, Kerala.

Drinking alcohol is usually considered to be relatively safe if it is done in moderation. Providing a person does not drink to excess, there was thought to be little risk to their health. This, however, may not be the case. In fact, alcohol may be almost as bad for you as smoking cigarettes.

This is according to a Global Burden of Diseases study by researchers at the University of Washington. Their findings are alarming, placing the level of damaged caused by alcohol upon the global population close to that of tobacco usage. According to the study, alcohol resulted in an apparent 2.8 million deaths in 2016 and was the leading risk factor of premature deaths for those between the ages of fifteen to 49, accounting for twenty percent of cases. It is also a leading risk factor for disability.

Even a single alcoholic drink a day can have negative effects on a person’s health, the study says. These potential negative effects were shown to outweigh the purported heart health benefits from drinking a glass of red wine.

“Alcohol may be almost as bad for you as smoking cigarettes”

The study’s findings could pose bad news for public health in India, where alcohol consumption has been rising significantly in recent decades. Between 1970 and 1995 there was a 106.7 percent increase in the consumption of alcohol per person.

There are a number of factors driving increased alcohol usage in India. Urbanisation plays a considerable role. Cities are home to increasing numbers of bars and pubs. As more people flock to urban environments, exposure to and availability of alcohol has increased dramatically.

Alcohol is, in fact, arguably more abundant in India now than it ever has been. Not only does India produce f 65 percent of alcoholic beverages in the South-East Asia region, it is regarded by some as the world’s third largest market for alcoholic drinks. As such, India has become a hotspot for the marketing of imported drinks.

Alcohol prohibition Copyright: upixel123 / 123RF Stock Photo
Alcohol is prohibited in five states and seven union territories in India.

“In India…alcohol consumption has been rising significantly in recent decades.”

The increase in alcohol consumption has, however, been far from equally distributed among the population. Legal considerations may come into play here, with alcohol banned in states such as Gujarat and Manipur.

Even in regions with prohibition policies, however, alcohol is still consumed – often thanks to bootlegging, which poses its own risks to health. More than 136 people dying after drinking poisoned bootleg alcohol in 2009.

Rates of excessive consumption of alcohol are typically higher among those from poorer economic backgrounds. Drinking is also not limited to the cities, with many in rural villages also taking up the habit.

“Even in regions with prohibition policies…alcohol is still consumed – often thanks to bootlegging, which poses its own risks to health”

Two districts of Uttarakhand, Dehradun and Haridwar, were recently investigated in a study published by AIIMS. The study found that around fifty percent of the population in these districts consumed alcohol to varying degrees of seriousness. One of the most prominently affected groups was unemployed men, whom the study believed to be resorting to alcohol as a means to cope.

With even mild levels of drinking now shown to pose a potential health threat, India’s burgeoning drinking culture has been exposed as an even greater risk to long term health. In a country already confronted with a rising incidence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), work needs to be done to ensure that the public is aware of the dangers of alcohol. Fortunately, this work may soon be done.

Alcoholic beverages will be required to carry labels warning consumers of the injurious effects of alcohol usage to health. This policy has echoes of similar legislation enacted against tobacco products in the country, which have been considered broadly effective in reducing the number of tobacco users in India. One hopes, then, that such a policy targeting alcohol may reap similar benefits.

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