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The world’s boozing habits revealed. There are some surprises.

Oktoberfest in Munich, September 18, 2010. (Reuters)

Editor’s note: This article was updated on May 1 to correct chart 4 below, entitled “Just how much are they drinking” and to remove references in the text to the incorrect numbers. The original chart had the relative rankings for female drinkers wrong. Thanks to a careful reader for bringing this to our attention. By way of context, note that the numbers are “per drinker” figures, reflecting habits only of people who drink in the particular countries.

Does booze play a part in world events? Don’t tell your kids — or your parents — but probably yes. Take Britain, a proud kingdom of saucing. Over the past year, the number of people seriously hurt by violence plunged 12 percent to roughly 235,000 cases. Though the decrease mirrors trends across the Western world, a new study this week said the real reason may be booze. Or the lack of it.

Tough economic times has meant fewer pints. “Binge drinking has become less frequent, and the proportion of youth who don’t drink alcohol at all has risen sharply,” explained lead researcher Jonathan Shepherd. “For people most prone to involvement in violence … falls in disposable income are probably an important factor.”

Findings involving alcohol are one of the few things that are translatable across the world. Alcohol — with the clear exception of some Muslim countries — spans class, culture and profession. But between every country, there are differences. And there are surprises.


1. Which countries overdo it the most?

Strange Fact: Living on an island appears to exacerbate one’s tendency to drink. The Cook Islands, Samoa, Ireland and Sri Lanka are all near the top. Stranger Fact: If you’re a Zambian drinker, you’re probably drunk at least once per week — and in very good company. Strangest Fact: Pakistan, despite the fact that it’s a Muslim country, has a pretty sizable drinking problem. The penalty if you’re caught is 80 lashes, but the punishment is rarely enforced, and alcohol addiction clinics are flourishing.

2. Which nationalities are most likely to endanger their health with drinking?

Strange Fact: Who knew European countries were so safe about their booze? Stranger Fact: The World Health Organization found in 2011 that the people of Moldova are the hardest drinkers in the world. They drink three times the global average, putting back 18 liters of pure alcohol per year. Strangest Fact: The “riskiest” drinkers in the world are found in Russia and Ukraine. (We’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.)

3. What’s the drink of choice?

Strange Fact: In Denmark, there’s something called hygge — an idea of warmth in a climate that has little of it. And yes, wine comes into play. Stranger Fact: Alcohol is mostly banned in Yemen, but if it is to be found, the WHO says it’s going to be beer. Strangest Fact: Haitians almost exclusively drink spirits. Evidently, WHO researchers never heard of the Haitian beer, Prestige. It’s kind of a big deal in the Caribbean nation.

4. Which country puts back the most?

Strange Fact: When you’re measuring the amount you drink in gallons, you know you’re in trouble. Stranger Fact: Though Mali is predominantly Muslim, alcohol isn’t prohibited. Our Africa says the drink of choice is millet beer, which looks to be consumed in large quantities.


Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.



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