Not Us, Not the Brits: Which Country Drinks the Most Booze?

An image showing a bar to illustrate which country drinks the most alcohol.

We all suspect that drinking is bad for us. Despite repeated attempts by possibly drink-addled scientists to prove that a glass of red wine per day is good for us, the World Health Organisation has recently said, rather definitively, that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

Sobriety is also having a trendy moment amongst the younger generations who seem to have either a lack of time, lack of money, or a surplus of brain cells to spend their weekends getting blackout as their older counterparts did in the good/bad old days.

Globally, this shift in drinking habits is pretty consistent. In wealthier nations, younger generations are drinking far less than they did before. They’re also starting to consume alcohol later in life and drink less when they do decide to drink.

This has actually become a real issue for at least one nation, as many countries rely on the tax earned from booze. Japan raised a few eyebrows last year when they launched a national campaign to encourage young people to drink more following falling tax revenue from alcohol. Shifting drinking patterns seen during the pandemic and an aging population who are consuming less booze appeared to have rattled the Japanese government.

In fact, total booze consumption seems to have peaked in 2003, and has been on the slide ever since. However, this is not a universal trend. As people in richer countries drink less, those in less developed nations have increased their alcohol intake.

It seems that what was once a point of pride has become something of a potentially concerning red flag. While Australia seems to tie much of its national identity to drinking, our relationship to alcohol has been under examination over the past few years.

That being said, Australia also produces some of the best beer, wine, and spirits in the world, and celebrating alcohol in a culinary sense should also be able to sit comfortably alongside necessary questions about safety and health.

For better or worse, booze is a major part of the human experience, possibly foundational to our abilities to record language owing to the fact we needed to find a way to preserve the recipe for beer. Whether you drink or are tee-total, everyone has some relationship to the bottle.

So, which countries hold the somewhat dubious title of the world’s biggest drinkers? Let’s take a look at the details.

Which Country Drinks the Most Alcohol?

The data on global alcohol consumption is a little fuzzy, with multiple reports coming to different conclusions, and should be treated with a degree of scepticism.

However, the most recent World Health Organisation data from 2018 puts the average consumption of alcohol across Earth at 6.18 litres of pure alcohol per year. This figure is per person above the age of 15, including those who don’t drink.

With 12.5 ml of pure alcohol per 3.5% can of 375 ml beer, that would equate to roughly 494.4 beers per person per year. With 100 ml of pure alcohol in a 13.5% bottle of wine, that would equal 61.8 bottles of wine per year. This might sound like a lot, but it’s comparatively minuscule when you get into the rest of the data.

WHO records from 2016 show that, based on the population who actually drinks in a country, Tunisia, in northern Africa, has the highest per capita consumption. Here, the average drinker consumes 35.1 litres of pure alcohol per year.

To put that into beer context, that’s 2808 beers per drinker per year. That’s 117 cases of beer, or 7.69 beers per day. For wine, it’s 351 bottles, just shy of one per day.

By this metric, Australia barely gets a showing. Those who drink consume 13.5 litres of alcohol per year – 1080 beers or 135 bottles of wine – almost a third as much as those in Tunisia.

WHO data is some of the most reliable, although the pandemic has made updated data collection difficult. The WHO also reports that alcohol is a serious global problem, killing around 3 million people per year from harmful consumption. At the same time, just 43% of the global population actually drink meaning that, if you do, you’re in the minority.

That being said, global trends are also heading downward. According to the WHO, alcohol consumption decreased from 2018 to 2019 by 5%, from 6.18 to 5.8 litres per person per year. That’s a drop of 30 beers or 3.8 bottles of wine per year.

While we don’t have complete data on records past 2018, in that year, the top drinking countries in the world when you take total alcohol consumed per capita, adjusted for tourist consumption, are as follows:

A table showing which country drinks the most alcohol
Image: World Health Organisation







How Much Alcohol Does Australia Drink?

Australia doesn’t even come close on that list. We’re all the way down at number 36, two below New Zealand and 19 places behind the UK. These numbers also differ from alcohol consumed by people who drink, as it factors in total population, including abstainers.

This does not mean we’re in the clear. In fact, we’re far from it since the above data clashes with other records that put Australia at the top of the global drinking list.

The 2021 Global Drugs Survey, which accepts submissions via an anonymous online survey, found that Australians got drunk 26.7 times a year, far higher than the second-ranking country, Denmark, on 23.8 times. The global average for getting drunk was 14.6 times per year.

Australia’s health authorities put the level of ‘safe’ drinking at 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four per day. However, the guidelines also state that “drinking is never free of risk” and that “the less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.”

Canada recently made headlines around the world when its own health authorities dropped the number of recommended drinks down to just two per week. Experts at the time said that Australia’s reluctance to do the same was more to do with the risk appetite of our nation, rather than a disagreement over the science.

A 2021 study found that even light drinking of just two standard drinks per day was associated with an increase of 23,000 new cancer cases per year. A third of those were associated with just one standard drink per day.

Despite the rules and the health risks, the latest data in Australia shows that one in four of us exceed the weekly recommended alcohol guidelines, with 33.6% of men doing so, compared to 18.5% of women.

Younger people were more likely to drink at least five drinks in a session at least once a month, a trend that broadly drops with age, while older people drink more than 10 drinks per week, peaking with those in the 55-65 category.

Professor Kate Conigrave, who oversaw the development of the alcohol guidelines in Australia, has said that most Australians probably aren’t aware of what healthy drinking habits look like, or even their own consumption.

“These guidelines are not trying to tell you what you can and can’t do. Rather, we’re providing advice on how you can reduce your health risks from drinking alcohol. That way, we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives,” she said.

Related: Why Younger People Are Drinking Less Than Previous Generations

Related: You’ve Heard of Mindful Eating, Now the Latest Trend Is Mindful Drinking

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