A total of 3 million people die as a result of “harmful use of alcohol” every year, the organisation said, representing 5.3 per cent of all deaths. In 2016, about 2.3 million were among men.
The data shows that in almost a third of all cases, death results from injuries including from traffic accidents, fights and suicides.
Of the remaining deaths attributable to alcohol, 21 per cent were due to digestive disorders; 19 per cent due to cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder from infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions.
In total, alcohol is responsible for 5.1 per cent of the total injury and disease burden across the planet.
The report, which comes out every four years, highlights the continuing challenge alcohol presents to society. The WHO described the number of deaths as “unacceptably high”, especially in Europe and America.
Young people aged 20-39 are disproportionately represented, with 13.5 per cent of all deaths in this age group attributable to alcohol.
“Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO.
“It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies.”
But the organisation is concerned global consumption of alcohol is due to grow over the next decade, particularly in southeast Asia.
The figures show 2.3 billion people are current drinkers, and in Europe alcohol consumption rates are the highest in the world, even though its per capita consumption has decreased by more than 10 per cent since 2010.
Despite Europe’s higher consumption rates, Africa bears the heaviest burden of disease and injury attributed to alcohol.
Across the world, the average daily consumption of people who drink alcohol is 33 grams of pure alcohol a day, roughly equivalent to 2 glasses (each of 150 ml) of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two shots (each of 40 ml) of spirits.
The report finds that alcohol-use disorders are more common in high-income countries, but notes that “socio-economic status” is a key vulnerability factor.
“Harms from a given amount of drinking are higher for poorer drinkers and their families than for richer drinkers,” the report says.
The economic development from a poorer society to a richer one may have potential in the longer term to mitigate alcohol-related harm, but the WHO warns the more immediate effect be to bring about an increase in alcohol consumption and related harm as the availability of alcoholic beverages increases.
The organisation is calling for measures including raising taxes and providing more support services to combat the impacts of the drug, particularly in less economically developed countries.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Dr Vladimir Poznyak, coordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse unit.
“Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.”