Cheers, Salud, Santé, Na zdraví, Kedves egeszsegere, Tervist. . . Every country has its own way of celebrating a much needed drink. However, with an estimated 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths worldwide annually, drinking has become a serious global problem.
The following countries have been ranked according to 2005 data collected by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They are listed according to their estimated average alcohol consumption per capita as of the mid-2000s, from the lowest to highest alcohol consumption. Most of the listed nations are big spirit drinkers, but others manage to consume an extraordinary number of liters of alcohol each year mainly through beer and wine.
The majority of countries with the highest alcohol consumption rates are Eastern European. These countries have a tendency to sell alcohol cheaply, or even to home brew spirits, and the health risks of consuming these cheap alcohols in large quantities are significant. In many of these countries, drinking is not only a big part of national culture and tradition, but also an everyday habit that can have devastating health and social consequences. In a few places it has even become a common occurrence to see children with a drink in hand.
However, since the release of the World Health Organization’s report in 2005, it seems that many of the nations on our list have been trying to counter the problem. Indeed, many governments have introduced restrictions on the advertising and sale of alcohol, adopted a stricter attitude towards home brewing and raised taxes on alcohol.
With St Patrick’s Day approaching fast and drinking events organised across the Western world in celebration, it is interesting to bear in mind that whilst two or three drinks is all in good fun, regular binge drinking, as this list shall reveal, can be a serious danger to us all.
10. Belarus – 15.15 liters of pure alcohol consumed
In 2011, over 4, 000 deaths in Belarus are estimated to have been directly alcohol related. With a preference for spirits which are cheap and easily accessible, drinking is an easy habit to indulge in for Belarusians. Two of the top ten taxpaying businesses in the country are distilleries. However, Belarus is faced with the worrying problem of illegal alcohol production which is both a threat to the legalised industry, and can pose serious health threats to its consumers.
According to news agency Interfax, in 2013 alone about 2,000 people in Belarus were charged with producing or selling illegal alcohol. Last month the Belarusian police introduced an unexpected strategy to attempt to curb excessive and dangerous alcohol consumption by inviting citizens to report other people illegally producing alcohol at home. In order to do this, all they have to do is post a ‘tip off’ letter including the bootlegger’s name and address. Last year the government tried another surprising strategy, threatening that illicit distilleries would be tracked from an aircraft.
9. Slovenia – 15.19 litres of pure alcohol consumed
Originally a nation of wine-drinkers, Slovenian’s love of the grape has long since evolved into a love of beer and spirits as well. Strongly associated with tradition and festivals, drinking is an integral part of Slovenian culture. As a country that has no minimum drinking age and no restrictions on drinking in public spaces such as parks and on public transport, consuming alcohol has become an everyday occurrence – even habit – widely tolerated in Slovenia. Statistics reveal the consequences of lax government responses to the issue: according to Reuters, every 5th Slovenian man and every 25th Slovenian woman is an alcoholic, Slovenia has one of the highest rates of alcohol-related disease in Europe, and one third of its fatal road accidents are alcohol-related.
8. Romania – 15.30 liters of pure alcohol consumed
Homemade wines and liquors are popular in Romania and form a part of its culture. According to ALIAT, in Romania around 2 million people are drinking excessively, and very few resources are being put towards countering the problem. Although the Romanian government bans alcohol from most public places, and has made it illegal to drive after drinking any alcohol whatsoever, it imposes no minimum drinking age and is largely tolerant toward its consumption.
Increasing poverty in Romania is thought to have made matters worse, and problem drinking has been pinpointed as a cause for the spread of HIV/Aids in the country. Long-term medical care for alcoholics is rare in Romania, and the care that is available is often considered ineffective, mainly consisting of locking patients up to detox them before letting them back out on to the streets.
7. Andorra – 15.48 liters of pure alcohol consumed
Andorra is a landlocked microstate between France and Spain where drinking levels soar above that of its neighbouring countries. Andorrans are big wine drinkers, benefiting from proximity to French and Spanish wineries and, until recently, no tax on alcohol sales. It is popular for skiing holidays, but also attracts tourists with its boozy reputation. Andorra’s pure alcohol consumption levels soar to a surprising 15.48 liters per person per year, despite the fact that the Andorran government imposes a minimum drinking age of 18 and enforces strict rules on public drunkenness.
6. Estonia – 15.57 liters of pure alcohol consumed
Estonians have a soft spot for spirits. According to Talinn newspaper Postimees; although 60, 000 Estonians are thought to be alcohol dependent, only 10% of them are being treated for the problem. Approximately 1, 440 alcohol-related deaths were recorded in Estonia in 2011 alone. However, thanks to a recent increase in government involvement in the problem, it seems that stricter substance abuse policies have led to a decrease in drinking since 2008. The economic crisis is also thought to have brought about a decline in alcohol consumption.
5. Ukraine – 15, 60 liters of pure alcohol consumed
With over 40 brands of Ukrainian-produced vodka, the country is known for its spirits. Unfortunately Ukrainians – a lot of them mere teenagers – have developed a particular taste for the stuff. Spirits represent 61% of alcohol consumption in the country and beer 32%. By law, beer is almost considered a soft drink and there is no minimum age for its consumption.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2008, 40% of Ukrainian children were drinking alcohol. The government’s lax permissiveness of this habit is causing a high number of alcohol-related deaths and diseases. Member of parliament Elina Shyshkina is reported to have said that ‘the problem is becoming a national tragedy’ that needs to be resolved. Restrictions on alcohol advertising have recently been introduced, but Ukraine still has a long way to go to limit the widespread alcoholism among its people.
4. Russia – 15.76 litres of pure alcohol consumed
According to the Guardian, research from January of this year has revealed that 35% of Russian male deaths before age 55 are linked to an excessive consumption of vodka. Russian men have a life expectancy of 64 years, placing Russia in the bottom 50 countries in this category. Vodka is cheap and widely available, despite the fact that alcohol has long been acknowledged as the top killer in Russia. Halting this addiction in Russia is not a simple matter of tightening government policies, but of severely modifying an age-old binge drinking culture.
3. Hungary – 16.27 liters of pure alcohol consumed
According to the World Health Organization, in Hungary mortality due to alcohol-related problems was over three times the European Union average for men, and two and a half times that of the average for women in 2008. With a preference for wine (which is un-taxed) over beer and spirits, a shocking 10% of the population has been officially diagnosed with alcoholism. Alcohol is allowed to be sold anywhere at all times of day making drinking easy and accessible.
2. Czech Republic – 16.45 litres of pure alcohol consumed
The Czechs have a preference for beer, with the highest beer per capita consumption in the world. In Czech restaurants, beer is often cheaper than mineral water. However, the production and consumption of spirits has become the country’s main concern. It is estimated that as much as 20% of alcohol consumed in the Czech Republic is home brewed. In September of 2012, the Czech government was forced to take action when over twenty people were killed in an outbreak of methanol poisoning traced back to bootleg spirits. The government took the high-security emergency measure of banning the sale of spirits with more than 20% alcohol content. This hit the industry hard and it seems that the government has continued to tighten its attitude towards alcohol since. Last week the lower house of the Czech parliament banned the sale of alcohol on the premises during plenary sessions – a surprising yet telling tradition of selling cheap alcohol to politicians and visitors has been broken.
1. Republic of Moldova – 18.22 liters of pure alcohol consumed
Nestled between two of our other top drinking nations, Ukraine and Romania, the Republic of Moldova takes the lead as the world’s nation of biggest drinkers. This presents a number of social and health problems: for example, the number of deaths as a result of liver cirrhosis in the Republic of Moldova is one of the highest in the world. However, since 2012 the Moldovan government has been endeavouring to turn the situation around. It has approved a National Programme on Alcohol Control by increasing taxation on alcohol by 10%, a restriction on hours of its sale, an increase in education campaigns, a ban on advertising, counselling for at-risk drinkers etc.
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