The world’s biggest drinking nations

South Africa has the highest alcohol consumption rate in Africa, and one of the highest in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In its latest report on alcohol and health in 2014, the UN organisation has compiled country by country data on the state of alcohol consumption per capita between 2008 and 2010.

In South Africa, alcohol consumption has increased to 11 litres per capita from the 10.1 litres per capita recorded between 2003 and 2005. Within the drinking population (abstainers excluded), this equates to 27.1 litres of pure alcohol consumed per capita.

Globally, on average, every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year, the WHO said. As less than half the population (38.3%) drinks alcohol, this means that those who do drink consume on average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually.

According to the organisation, in 2012, about 3.3 million deaths – or 5.9% of all global deaths – were attributable to alcohol consumption; 7.6% of deaths among males, and 4.0% of deaths among females.

“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” said Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

“The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol.”

Global alcohol consumption 2010
Global alcohol consumption 2010 (click to enlarge)

Globally, Europe was found to be the region with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita, with some of its countries having particularly high consumption rates.

The organisation said that trend analysis indicated that the consumption level has been stable over the last 5 years in the region, as well as in Africa and the Americas – though increases have been reported in the South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions.

“We found that worldwide about 16% of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking – often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ – which is the most harmful to health,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

“Lower-income groups are more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol. They often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.”

South Africa has the 29th highest level of alcohol consumption per capita in the world – 11.0 litres (tied with Belgium) – and the highest in Africa, above Gabon (10.9), Namibia (10.8) and Nigeria (10.1).

Countries which have a higher consumption rate are predominantly found in Europe, with Bulgaria and Denmark (11.4), Croatia and France (12.2) and Finland (12.3) listed, amongst many others.

The highest consumption countries include Russia (15.1), Lithuania (15.4), Moldova (16.8) and Belarus (17.5).

Top 10 booziest countries (pure alcohol consumed)

# Country Litres per capita (drinkers only)
1 Belarus 17.5 (22.1)
2 Moldova 16.8 (25.4)
3 Lithuania 15.4 (23.6)
4 Russia 15.1 (22.3)
5 Romania 14.4 (21.3)
6 Ukraine 13.9 (20.3)
7 Andorra 13.8 (20.1)
8 Hungary 13.3 (16.3)
9 Czech Republic 13.0 (14.6)
10 Portugal 12.9 (22.6)

South Africa

In South Africa, the WHO estimates that the combined tangible and intangible costs of harmful use of alcohol to the SA economy reached nearly R300 billion – or 10–12% – of the 2009 gross domestic product.

South Africa’s average alcohol consumption is almost double the WHO African region average of 6 litres.

This is expected to increase marginally over the next decade, from 11.5 in 2015 to 12.1 in 2025.

Further data shows that more than a quarter (25.6%) of the drinking population in South Africa are considered binge drinkers, consuming at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol in one session within a 30-day period.

This equates to 10.4% of the entire population over the age of 15. 30.2% of the South African population (aged 15+) are considered normal drinkers.

Conversely, 59.4% of the population are abstainers – with 42.1% of that figure considered lifetime abstainers, while 17.3% are considered “former drinkers”, having not consumed alcohol for a period of 12 months.

South African drinkers favour beer (48%) over wine (18%) and spirits (17%) – while other types of alcohol make up the remaining 17%.

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