Daily Archives: 07/01/2015

Alcohol use disorders and mortality in Nordic countries

This research was published on the excellent Mental Elf website last month looking at alcohol use disorders and mortality in Nordic countries.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is one of the most prevalent mental disorders, affecting an estimated 3.6 % of the world population. AUDs are a major contributor of morbidity and mortality, with excessive alcohol consumption associated with increased burden of disease, accidents and social problems (Samohkvalov et al, 2010).

A recent meta-analysis including studies across many countries demonstrated that men with AUD have three-fold higher mortality, whereas women have four-fold mortality, than the general population (Roerecke et al, 2013). Increased mortality is also seen in younger people and those in treatment for addiction. However, little is known about the mortality data of patients with AUD in Nordic countries.

Because of alcohol-related problems, Sweden, Denmark and Finland created alcohol policies to restrict availability and reduce population consumption of alcohol. However in 1995, after joining the European Union, both Sweden and Finland shifted to more liberal polices such as tax reductions and lengthened opening hours.

In a recent population based register study published in Acta Pyschiatrica Scandinavica, the authors evaluated the mortality and life expectancy rates in people diagnosed with AUD in Denmark, Finland and Sweden over a twenty year period (Westman et al, 2014). Within these countries, Sweden has the most restrictive alcohol policies, whilst Denmark has the least restrictive policies.

Results

During the entire study alcohol consumption per capita was lowest in Sweden and highest in Denmark. Small fluctuations in consumption were evident across the time periods. For example, in Finland alcohol consumption peaked during 2002-2006, coinciding with alcohol tax reductions.

Mortality

Mortality was higher overall in Denmark, than Finland or Sweden. Standardized mortality increased over the twenty years in both men and woman in Denmark. In Finland and Sweden standardized mortality decreased in both men and women over time.

In all three countries, mortality rates in people with AUD were higher in younger age groups. People with AUD had higher mortality from all causes of death, including all diseases, medication conditions and suicide.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy was highest in Sweden and lowest in Denmark. In all three countries, life expectancy was longer in woman than men. Difference in life expectancy was calculated as the life expectancy in the general population minus life expectancy of people with AUD. In Denmark this was approximately 27.6 years; Finland 26.9 years; Sweden 24.9 years.

Over the 20 year period life expectancy differences increased in Men (Denmark, 1.8 years; Finland, 2.6 years; Sweden, 1.0 years). In women, life expectancies differences increased in Denmark (0.3 years), but decreased in Finland (0.8 years) and Sweden (1.8 years).

Discussion

Across three Nordic countries, individuals who are hospitalized with AUD have an average life expectancy of 47-53 years if male, and 50-58 years if female. The main finding of the study was the shorter life expectancy (~26.5 years) of individuals with AUD compared with the general population.

A particular strength of this study was the comparison of mortality and life expectancy across the whole population in the three Nordic countries. The authors used nationwide health registers to provide highly reliable population data.

The results of this study have clear clinical implications for policy and treatment. The authors suggest that hazardous alcohol consumers should be a specific target for preventative measures, to ensure they do not develop AUDs. Furthermore, the somatic care of people with AUD should be substantially improved.

To conclude, Alcohol Use Disorder is a significant public health concern, which severely impacts mortality and life-expectancy.

I would add that the country with the most restrictive alcohol policies, Sweden, had lower alcohol consumption and mortality rates and a higher life expectancy than those with less restrictive policies, in particular Denmark.  This indicates to me that policy progress is the way forward in helping to manage the presence and prevalence of AUD.