Worldwide, people 15 and older consumed 6.2 liters of alcohol per person in 2010, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report. Alcohol, in turn, contributed to some 3.3 million deaths as of 2012.
In some countries, consumption, and the resultant health problems attached to drinking, were worse. In 10 countries residents consumed more than 13 or more liters per person as of 2010. In Belarus, the heaviest drinking nation, residents consumed 17.5 liters on average. Based on figures from the WHO, these are the countries with the highest per capita consumption.
Nearly all of the countries with the highest levels of alcohol consumption are located in Eastern Europe. They include Russia and other former Soviet Union nations such as Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine. The only top-consuming nation not located in Eastern Europe is Andorra, a principality located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees.
According to Tom Donaldson, president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), historical and societal factors explain why certain countries have higher rates of consumption.
Residents in many of these areas may also lack the information necessary to make informed health decisions, Donaldson added. “In some of those areas, there are no public health awareness efforts whatsoever about the effects of alcohol consumption.” Eight of the nations with the highest consumption did not have public policy initiatives to address the effects of alcohol consumption on the general public.
Residents in these countries were also often among the most likely to suffer from alcohol use disorders. Five of the heaviest drinking countries also had among the 10 highest prevalences of alcohol use disorders. These include alcoholism and other forms of health-damaging use of alcohol. Such disorders lead to physical problems such as liver cirrhosis and mental illnesses such as depression. The three nations with the highest rates of alcohol use disorders, Hungary, Russia, and Belarus, were all among the 10 heaviest drinking nations.
Of the 3.3 million alcohol related deaths worldwide, a third were caused by cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Unintentional injuries accounted for 17.1% of alcohol-related deaths. Various types of cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, and intentional self-harm were also common causes of deaths related to alcohol. In five of these nations, 30% of deaths in 2012 were alcohol related, compared to 5.9% of deaths worldwide.
A number of serious diseases are largely caused by alcohol. Half of all deaths due to liver cirrhosis are attributable to alcohol. Similarly, more than one quarter of all cases of pancreatitis and various types of mouth cancer are attributable to alcohol use.
Life expectancies in the nations with heavy alcohol use are also shorter. The average life expectancy at birth in high income nations was 79.3 years as of 2012, far higher than in almost all of the heaviest drinking nations. In Romania, the average life expectancy was just 68.7 years. In Russia and Ukraine the average life expectancy was below 72 years as well.
While men in these countries drink much more than women, women in these countries are also heavy drinkers compared to women in other countries. The heaviest drinking countries overall include six nations where women consumed the most alcohol.
Moreover, “Alcohol use among women has been increasing steadily in line with economic development and changing gender roles,” according to the WHO. This presents major health concerns for women who tend to be more vulnerable — physically and socially — to alcohol use.
Women in these countries may also not be aware of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the health risks of alcohol on infants in utero. “There are no public health efforts to educate women on fetal alcohol syndrome,” Kathleen Mitchell, vice president and spokesperson for NOFAS said. “What it takes is a compilation of public health measures and awareness for people to change their behavior or take notice.”
Based on figures from WHO’s recent “Global Report on Alcohol and Health 2014” 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the countries with the highest rates of alcohol consumption. Per capita consumption figures are based on a combination of average recorded consumption between 2008 and 2010, as well as unrecorded consumption estimates as of 2010. Figures on alcohol use disorders, which includes drinking behavior that can lead to health problems and alcoholism; heavy episodic drinking, or binge drinking; and data on the relative contribution of alcohol to mortality as of 2012 are also from the report. 24/7 Wall St. also obtained the most recently published data on GDP, unemployment, and inflation from the International Monetary Fund. Figures on life expectancies and poverty levels are from the World Bank and current as of 2012.
These are the heaviest drinking countries in the world: