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Alcohol’s Global Toll

Tackling the understudied problem of alcohol misuse in low-income countries.

By Gary Gately • Photo by Mihail Kopychko/Photoshare

People in low- and middle-income countries are less likely than those in high-income countries to drink. But those who do consume alcohol tend to engage in behaviors such as binge drinking and daily drinking that put them at a much greater risk for disease, premature death and disability.

Yet there is a dearth of research on problematic alcohol use in under-resourced nations. M. Claire Greene, PhD ’18, MPH, a postdoctoral fellow in Mental Health, and her colleagues seek to address that gap by identifying the public health impacts of alcohol misuse in 31 LMICs. 

“It is still shocking to me that even though alcohol misuse has such strong implications for society and communities, families and individuals, the medical community in these LMICs is decades behind the U.S. and many other countries in recognizing alcohol and drug misuse as a public health priority,” Greene says. 

The limited research on alcohol misuse in LMICs has neglected some of the most vulnerable populations, including those affected by conflict, disaster or political unrest. The research gap also reflects deeply held beliefs that alcohol problems result from poor choices and a lack of morals and self-control. 

While the stigma of alcoholism certainly exists in developed countries, it is magnified in LMICs. The bias persists not only among the general populations but also in the countries’ medical communities, Greene says. 

Still, she’s hopeful that this research might lead to collaborations with governments, global health agencies and other stakeholders in efforts to mitigate the ravages of alcohol in LMICs. 

“The first step toward finding and implementing solutions that work is raising attention and gaining awareness of what is happening,” Greene says. “We hope to help fill the void in the research, which will bring solutions, but it certainly won’t happen overnight.”

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