Colombia had the lowest rate of death from alcohol consumption, averaging 1.8 per 100,000, followed by Argentina at 4 per 100,000, and Venezuela with 5.5 deaths per 100,000 annually. The U.S., by comparison, averaged 6.7 deaths for every 100,000 people a year.
Left out of the analysis were deaths where alcohol played a role but was not necessarily the sole cause, such as in the case of traffic accidents and suicides, according to study co-author Dr. Maristela Monteiro, PAHO senior adviser on alcohol and substance abuse.
“These are all deaths where the cause on the death certificate had the word alcohol or alcoholic,” Monteiro said. “It's very unlikely that somebody would put that if the person (who died) did not have a problem with alcohol and their disease was related to that.”
Men made up the vast majority of deaths caused by alcohol consumption at 84%, while those between the ages of 50 and 69 had the highest death rates in the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica and Argentina, the study found.
The disparities found among countries were likely the result of a lack of interventions designed to reduce alcohol consumption in places that had the highest rates, Monteiro said. That highlights the need for governments and healthcare professionals to increase their focus on instituting policies that target restricting access.
“Health professional have a duty to screen their patients about their alcohol consumption, establish their risk and advise them properly,” Monteiro said. “Just treating people is not enough, you need to reduce the number of people that enter into the need for treatment.”
Similar sentiment was expressed last week with the release of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 38 million Americans drink too much, but that only 1 in 6 adults say they have talked with their doctor about their alcohol use.
In speaking to members of the press, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden urged doctors to regularly screen their patients for possible problems with drinking, saying such efforts can help reduce the amount they consume on an occasion by as much as 25%.
“The bottom line here is that drinking too much is a big problem among U.S. adults,” Frieden said. “It shouldn't get a free pass when it comes to screenings by health professionals, but should be a part of all the screenings that are provided.”
Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson