Top 5 Heaviest Drinking Countries in the World

glass of whisky

Quick question. Which country in the world has the highest average alcohol consumption? Where does the average adult drink the most?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably going along the lines of something like Russia or the US. How about Italy or France?

If that’s the case, you couldn’t be more far off. I’m going to bet you probably won’t be able to guess a single one of the countries in today’s top five.

So, we focus on the individual here. How you as a person can reframe the way you view alcohol and your relationship with it. But sometimes, it’s helpful to step back a bit. Look at the big picture. At aggregated data. See what happens at a national or even global level.

Which countries have the heaviest drinking populations? How did they get there? And how are their public health authorities responding to the problem?

Now, before we get into the top five drinking countries, it’s good to have a point of reference to see what’s at the extreme.

We first need to know the average, so we know the standard against which we’re comparing. And that is the average annual global consumption.

How many liters of pure alcohol does the average adult drink in a year? I’m talking about pure alcohol. For example, a one-liter bottle of wine with a strength of 12% has 0.12 liters of pure alcohol.

So across the world, the average adult drinks 6.4 liters of pure alcohol per year. This is equivalent to roughly 50 bottles of wine a year or one liter of wine a week.

We can now look at the world’s top five drinking countries, brought to you by the World Bank.

5. Luxemburg

map with pin on luxembourg

Kicking things off at number five, the tiny nation of Luxemburg.

Luxemburg is one of the smallest yet wealthiest sovereign states in Europe. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, it’s actually the second wealthiest country in the world, with a per capita GDP of roughly $80 thousand.

Yet in spite of all this prosperity, the average citizen of Luxembourg drinks 12.9 liters of pure alcohol a year, nearly double the global average. The country produces its own wine and beer, as well as some well-known liquors.

According to data published in the Luxembourg times, alcoholic drinks, tobacco and illegal drugs account for a whopping 8.3% of the average household’s expenses. This places Luxemburg at number one on the EU list.

The country is also third on the list of countries where people have at least one period of “heavy episodic drinking” a month. That’s a nice way of saying getting drunk; 34% of Luxembourgers get drunk at least once a month, which is just behind Denmark’s 38% and Romania’s 35%.

Interestingly, the Mediterranean European countries of Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus are at the bottom of the list, with only 4 to 6% of people getting heavily drunk at least once a month. What do you make of this massive difference? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

4. Lithuania

arrow pointing to lithuania in map

If you’ve never been to Lithuania, I have one word for you. Go.

It’s hard to find a country where the people are as friendly, the towns are as beautiful, and the scenery is outright stunning. Especially Vilnius, it’s gotta be hands down one of the nicest capitals in Europe.

But – it’s not all roses. And one of the problems is drinking. At 13.2 liters of pure alcohol per year, Lithuania just beats Luxembourg to our four spot.

Aside from the mass produced and imported beers, wine and spirits, there are dozens of local breweries, producing every kind of beer and ale you can imagine.

As you’d expect, alcoholism and alcohol related diseases are an issue. And as is always the case, men are more affected. Men in Lithuania die from alcohol-related diseases at three and a half times the rate of women. And the age bracket that suffers the most is between 45 to 49.

Until a few decades ago, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, before regaining their independence in 1991. As such, the Lithuanians were part of the largest anti-drinking campaign in modern history, launched by Michael Gorbachev in the latter half of the 1980s.

At the time, alcoholism in the Soviet Union had reached epidemic proportions. Living standards were abysmal, people were unhappy, and in many parts of the country there didn’t seem much to do other than drink.

Because of all the drinking, life expectancy fell, absenteeism in the workplace skyrocketed, and the economy suffered. Some experts estimated the cost of alcohol at 10% of the entire economy.

In response, Gorbachev launched a massive campaign without precedent in history. He slashed production, raised prices, shut down thousands of liquor shops, reduced their selling hours, and banned restaurants from selling liquor.

As a result, sugar soon disappeared from the shelves. You see, the Lithuanians, along with other soviets, soon turned to moonshine production. And sugar is an essential ingredient for moonshine.

Going too hard too fast was a mistake that Gorbachev admitted to in a 2015 interview. “We should not have shut down trade, provoking moonshine production. Everything should have been done gradually. Not by putting an axe to the head.”

Micheal Gorbachev

The campaign was so unpopular that Gorbachev scrapped it after two years. This is a lesson the current Lithuanian government has taken to heart.

Current anti-drinking measures are relatively mild. They include a minimum drinking age of 20, and the supermarkets not selling booze after 8 at night.

A recent opposition attempt to lower the drinking age and extend selling hours was just defeated in parliament.

3. Czech Republic

Czech Republic

At number three, the Czechs, on average, drink well over twice as much as the rest of the world.

According to the Czech national office of statistics, the average adult consumes 292 beers a year. On top of that, they also consume 100 glasses of wine and 175 shots of spirits.

I don’t know about you, but just listening to these numbers makes me so grateful that I don’t drink and am sparing my body this kind of abuse.

A 2020 survey funded by the ministry of health gave some very alarming results. It found that alcohol is culturally accepted to such a degree that even pregnant women drink.

According to a statement by the director of the department of drugs policy, “Every third person thinks that drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy is okay. It is not. This must be clear.”

In response, the Ministry of Health proposed several measures, including restricting alcohol ads on TV between 10 pm and 6 am as well as increasing the tax on alcohol.

2. Uganda

searching uganda with magnifying glass

After kicking off our top five with three European countries in a row, we find Uganda at the number two spot.

At 15.1 liters a year, Uganda is a bit of an outlier in the region. Neighboring countries like Kenya and Kongo drink only two to three liters a year. In all fairness, though, Tanzania is not far off, at 11 liters a year.

The reasons for these huge disparities are not clear, but to give you an idea of how bad things can be, in 2019, the Ugandan government made international headlines when they banned the sale of alcohol in sachets.

alcohol sachet

Yes, you heard that right, alcohol in sachets.

At 40 to 45% strength, these small sachets are called Waragi. They’re typically 100ml in volume and a Ugandan could pick them up for 13 cents apiece.

Though they were banned only two years ago, this was the result of a battle that certain politicians had been waging for years. Already in 2013, a Ugandan MP named Odonga Otto was pushing hard to pass a law banning the sale of sachets.

To see what he had to say, check out this video from 1:49 to 2:21. We sincerely hope that things will improve with the new legislation now in force.

1. Seychelles

seychelles

And at the number one spot, the undisputed heavyweight drinking champions of the world is the Seychelles. The tiny island nation off the east coast of Africa is made up of 115 small islands and has a population of barely 100 thousand people.

And it boasts one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world.

Before the coronavirus, tourism accounted for roughly 40% of the country’s GDP.

Now, you’d think that living in such a tropical paradise would make for some of the happiest people in the world, with the least motivation to drink.

seycehlles island

Sadly, this is not the case. At 20.5 liters of pure alcohol per year, the Seychelles are, by far, the heaviest drinking country on the planet. They easily beat Uganda by a margin of 35%.

A 1999 study of the islanders’ drinking patterns reported that 51% of men were regular drinkers. This is compared to only 6% for women. Over half the alcohol consumed was in the form of home brews, particularly palm wine and fermented sugar cane juice.

People from higher economic strata were likelier to drink commercially marketed drinks, whereas those from the lowest preferred home brews.

According to the study, “As regards consumption patterns, male labourers would traditionally stop by the yard of a seller […], purchase a bottle, drain it, and go on their way. Men may also meet with neighbours or workmates near a shop, at a home-brew seller’s, on the beach or on the roadside and have a few beers or some home-brew while chatting or playing dominoes. Men traditionally do not bring alcoholic beverages (particularly home-brews) to their own houses, as this is apt to engender disputes with their wives, often on the basis that alcohol consumption drains money from the household budget. However, alcoholic beverages are consumed in large amounts, particularly by men, at parties held at home to celebrate important family events (e.g., first communions, confirmations, Christmas, New Year) or in community events (e.g., fancy fairs for the patron saint of a village or a church).

In response to all this boozing, the government has drafted their National Alcohol Policy. This one is relatively mild compared to some of the other policies we’ve seen. It focuses more on education and rehabilitation rather than prohibition.

As we wrap things up, I just want to clarify that average annual consumption and alcoholism are two different things.

So, the fact that Seychelles has the highest average volume of drinking in the world does not mean it leads the world in alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths. It does not – it’s not even in the top 20 countries in that regard.

According to data from the World Health Organization, the country with the highest rate of alcohol use disorder is Hungary. The WHO estimates that a whopping 37% of men suffer from alcohol use disorder, and 16% are fully dependent on it.

After Hungary, Russia is number two. The US is at seven.

Finally, I want to shout out to the country with the lowest rates of alcohol consumption. Now, I’m obviously not going to include the countries that have outlawed alcohol for religious reasons.

But one of the countries with the lowest consumption levels where drinking is a) both perfectly legal and b)socially acceptable is Singapore.

Prices aren’t cheap, by any measure, but they are not crazy either, certainly nothing compared to some Scandinavian countries that have much higher drinking rates.

Restrictions on selling and drinking are also very mild, with supermarkets not selling alcohol after 10:30 at night. You’re also not allowed to drink in public outdoor spaces after 10:30. That’s about it.

Makes you wonder what on earth it is about that tiny little nation that allows them to do so well.

If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments

This is a huge topic, and there’s only so much we can cover in one post. We will be coming back to this again in the future.

Hope you enjoyed. Till next time, take care.

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Leon

Leon

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