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How does alcohol consumption affect non-drinkers?

A recent study in Germany updated the statistics of the effects of alcohol-caused harms on non-drinkers.

It is well known that alcohol harms not only the people who consume it but also the society around them.

Studies in several countries—including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries—have highlighted the role of alcohol in interpersonal violence in several situations.

They have studied these scenarios in the home and in public, in traffic collisions caused by drunk drivers, and in the health of newborn children due to heavy drinking during pregnancy.

Updating the statistics on the harms of alcohol consumption

However, the lack of recent estimates of the prevalence of the most dangerous third-party effects of alcohol led a group of researchers in Germany to take a closer look at the harms alcohol cause to non-drinkers.

The researchers are associated with the Institute for Therapy Research in Bayern, Germany.

The study sought to estimate some of the most severe harms of alcohol use on non-drinkers.

The harms they investigated are fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), road traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers, and deaths resulting from alcohol-attributable interpersonal violence.

The study, published in the open-access journal BMC Medicine, found the following results for the year 2014.

Many children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

In the year 2014, 2,930 children were born with FAS, and 12,650 children were born with FASD.

While the children born with these two alcohol-associated syndromes constitute a small percentage of the total yearly number of live births (0.41% for FAS and 1.77% for FASD), the absolute number of FAS and FASD cases is not negligible.

Almost half of traffic accidents are associated with alcohol

Regarding traffic accidents associated with alcohol, the researchers estimated that 45.1% of the total mortality of third-party individuals (non-alcohol drinkers) due to road traffic accidents in 2014 could be attributed to alcohol.

The authors of the study estimated that in 2014, around 15% of deaths due to interpersonal violence could be attributed to alcohol.

Public health policies should focus on traffic fatalities and children’s health due to alcohol consumption

Given that road traffic fatalities tend to harm a greater number of individuals than interpersonal violence and that the life expectancy of children with FAS and FASD is so short (31 to 34 years), the authors suggest that public health policies in Germany should concentrate on targeting these two harmful effects of alcohol.

Although the researchers analyzed the best data available on the prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and cause-of-death statistics for third-party traffic deaths and interpersonal violence deaths, it is worth keeping in mind that the data was mainly from surveys and thus were self-reported, which is as accurate as the memory and the honesty (conscious or not) of the people completing the survey.

Nevertheless, taking into account the results of the study, it is clear that more should be done to diminish the consumption of alcohol in society and to educate people about how to drink responsibly.

Regarding this issue, study author Dr. Kraus commented in a recent press release, “Although measures such as pricing policies or limiting the marketing of alcoholic beverages are unpopular, targeted measures addressing particular populations at risk, such as women of childbearing age or road users, may help to reduce harms to others as well as harms to the drinker.”

Written by Maria Isabel Acosta Lopez, PhD, Medical Writer


  1. Kraus, L., Seitz, N.-N., Shield, K. D., Gmel, G., & Rehm, J. (2019). Quantifying harms to others due to alcohol consumption in Germany: a register-based study. BMC Medicine, 17(1), 59.
  2.  IOS Press. (2019, February 21). People who don’t drink may still suffer harms from alcohol, study suggests. EurekAlert! Retrieved April 2, 2019 from
  3. Thanh, N. X., & Jonsson, E. (2016). Life Expectancy of People with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Journal of Population Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology = Journal De La Therapeutique Des Populations Et De La Pharamcologie Clinique, 23(1), e53–9.


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