Aims Computing the number of alcohol-attributable deaths requires a series of hypotheses. Using French data for 2006, the potential biases are reviewed and the sensitivity of estimates to various hypotheses evaluated.
Methods Self-reported alcohol consumption data were derived from large population-based surveys. The risks of occurrence of diseases associated with alcohol consumption and relative risks for all-cause mortality were obtained through literature searches. All-cause and cause-specific population alcohol-attributable fractions (PAAFs) were calculated. In order to account for potential under-reporting, the impact of adjustment on sales data was tested. The 2006 mortality data were restricted to people aged between 15 and 75 years.
Results When alcohol consumption distribution was adjusted for sales data, the estimated number of alcohol-attributable deaths, the sum of the cause-specific estimates, was 20 255. Without adjustment, the estimate fell to 7158. Using an all-cause mortality approach, the adjusted number of alcohol-attributable deaths was 15 950, while the non-adjusted estimate was a negative number. Other methodological issues, such as computation based on risk estimates for all causes for ‘all countries’ or only ‘European countries’, also influenced the results, but to a lesser extent.
Discussion The estimates of the number of alcohol-attributable deaths varied greatly, depending upon the hypothesis used. The most realistic and evidence-based estimate seems to be obtained by adjusting the consumption data for national alcohol sales, and by summing the cause-specific estimates. However, interpretation of the estimates must be cautious in view of their potentially large imprecision.