Alcohol can be a source of individual pleasure and social enjoyment, and its production and trade represent an important part of the economy in many countries. Harmful alcohol consumption, however, is a leading risk factor for premature mortality, injuries and many non-communicable diseases such as cancer, liver cirrhosis and injuries. These, in turn, have wider detrimental societal consequences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in drinking habits, with a higher number of people reporting an increase in volume and frequency of drinking compared to the number reporting lower alcohol consumption. In Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, overall alcohol sales slightly increased by 3-5% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to preliminary estimates. COVID-19 has also changed the places where people drink: while bars and restaurants were badly hit by lockdowns, retail stores and e-commerce significantly increased their sales. The pandemic has also highlighted the problems – in particular within the family sphere – associated with harmful levels of alcohol consumption. Tackling harmful alcohol use therefore remains an important priority for governments.

Policies to tackle harmful alcohol consumption are complex and require trade-offs. This report sheds light on these trade-offs by presenting new evidence on the health and economic impact of alternative options. Analyses in this report focus on 52 OECD, European Union (EU27) and Group of 20 (G20) countries, and show that life expectancy will be 0.9 years lower over the next 30 years due to diseases and injuries caused by drinking more than 1 drink per day for women and 1.5 drinks per day for men, corresponding to a lower-risk threshold specifically used for the simulation. These diseases and injuries cause medical costs equal to about 2.4% of total health expenditure each year; they also damage children’s school performance and labour force productivity. As a result, it is estimated that gross domestic product (GDP) will be 1.6% lower on average in OECD countries annually over the next 30 years.

This report identifies policy gaps at the national level. For example, in many countries the implementation of policies on the ground and their effectiveness at the population and individual levels are hindered by poor implementation, limited resources or practical problems. Upscaling action to tackle harmful alcohol consumption is effective in reducing harm and is shown to be an efficient investment. Combining policies into packages that focus on limiting the promotion of alcohol to children; better police enforcement to prevent alcohol-related traffic injuries; upscaling coverage of counselling for patients with harmful alcohol consumption; and price policies to limit the affordability of alcohol, particularly for cheap alcohol, maximises the impact. Investing in such policy packages can save millions of lives and generate savings that are greater than the implementation costs. For every USD 1 invested, the estimates in this report suggest that up to USD 16 is returned in economic benefit, excluding the impact on alcohol-related businesses. The report also discusses approaches to minimise consequences for industry and businesses.

This report is a clear illustration of how better policies lead to better lives. By investing in health prevention, policy-makers have the opportunity to reduce the burden of harmful alcohol consumption for future generations, and to benefit economies.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2021

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at