Geneva: Alcohol causes nearly 4 per cent of deaths worldwide, more than Aids, tuberculosis or violence, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Friday.
Rising incomes have triggered more drinking in heavily populated countries in Africa and Asia, including India and South Africa, and binge drinking is a problem in many developed countries, the United Nations agency said.
Yet alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking's heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism, it said.
Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol related causes, the WHO said in its "Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health.
"The harmful use of alcohol is especially fatal for younger age groups and alcohol is the world's leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59," the report found.
In Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), every fifth death is due to harmful drinking, the highest rate.
Binge drinking, which often leads to risky behaviour, is now prevalent in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine, and rising elsewhere, according to the WHO.
"Worldwide, about 11 per cent of drinkers have weekly heavy episodic drinking occasions, with men outnumbering women by four to one. Men consistently engage in hazardous drinking at much higher levels than women in all regions," the report said. Health ministers from the WHO's 193 member states agreed last May to try to curb binge drinking and other growing forms of excessive alcohol use through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing restrictions.
Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries, according to WHO's first report on alcohol since 2004.
Its consumption has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents, violence, and several types of cancer, including cancers of the colorectum, breast, larynx and liver.
"Six or seven years ago we didn't have strong evidence of a causal relationship between drinking and breast cancer. Now we do," Vladimir Poznyak, head of WHO's substance abuse unit who coordinated the report, told Reuters. Alcohol consumption rates vary greatly, from high levels in developed countries, to the lowest in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and southern Asia.