The World Health Organization is calling on governments around the world to take tougher action, in a new report that says alcohol is killing or contributing to the deaths of 3.3 million people a year.

“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health said in a statement Monday, to coincide with the release of a new report.

In its "Global status report on alcohol and health 2014", the WHO notes that alcohol can not only lead to violence and injuries, it also increases the risk of more than 200 diseases, including liver cirrhosis and several types of cancers.

The report found that 7.6 per cent of men’s deaths around the world are related to alcohol, as are 4 per cent of women’s deaths. The authors say they are also concerned about the steady increase in alcohol among women.

Alcohol causes death and disability relatively early in life, the report says. Approximately 25 per cent of deaths among those aged age group 20 to 39 can be attributed to alcohol.

The report found that on average, every person in the world over the age of 15 drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. But since less than half the world’s population drinks at all -- 38.3 per cent -- those who do drink consume 17 litres of pure alcohol a year, on average.

“We found that worldwide about 16 per cent of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking - often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ -- which is the most harmful to health,” explains Dr Shekhar Saxena, director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

Globally, Europe has the highest consumption of alcohol per capita. South-East Asia and the Western Pacific are seeing increases in consumption, while in the Americas and Africa, consumption trends are stable.

The report notes that some of the 194 countries it reviewed already have several measures in place to try to protect people from the risks of alcohol. But many don’t have national awareness activities to remind citizens of the risks of drinking. And many more don’t have national policies aimed at reducing the harmful use of alcohol.

The report says all governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, including:

  • regulating the sale of alcohol, in particular to younger people
  •  enacting drink-driving policies
  • reducing demand through taxation and pricing
  • raising awareness of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol
  • providing affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders