Alcohol might be one of the oldest and most frequently used recreational substances in the world, but, as Visual Capitalist's Omri Wallach details below, examining countries by alcohol consumption shows that usage is not equal.
Consumption levels, and types of alcohol consumed, vary widely based on location. Furthermore, the availability of fruits and grains used in alcohol production impacts which drinks are more commonly consumed, as does the predominant culture. Some cultures see alcohol consumption as a pleasurable experience, while others see intoxication as a sin.
There’s also the question of economics and availability. It’s strange, but in some regions of the world, industrially mass-produced alcohol can flood markets and become cheaper than other beverages, including water.
When we map alcohol consumption by capita, and by different types of alcohol, these local and cultural stories come to light.
The above maps use recorded consumption data from WHO for 2019, in liters of pure alcohol.
Europe Leads in Per Capita Alcohol Consumption
The top 10 countries by alcohol consumption highlight the prominence of alcoholic beverages in European culture.
Eight of the 10 countries with the top alcohol consumption per capita were in Europe. Primarily, they were Eastern and Central European countries, including #2 Latvia, #3 Czech Republic, #4 Lithuania, and #5 Austria.
But the crown of alcohol consumption per capita goes to the Cook Islands, which leads the world with an annual per capita consumption of 13L (3.4 gallons) of alcohol.
At the bottom of the consumption charts? Not surprisingly, it’s Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries where intoxication is religiously prohibited.
Regional Disparities in Alcohol Consumption
Per capita consumption of alcohol also highlights clear regional preferences in amount and type, or a lack of interest.
The biggest consumers of alcohol are countries in Central Europe, the South Pacific, and parts of the Caribbean. In Europe, beer and wine are kings, with most of the top consumers also being top producers such as France and Germany.
Spirits like rum, meanwhile, are dominant in the Cook Islands and much of the Caribbean, which has four of the 12 top spirit consumers. The others are mainly in Eastern Europe and Russia, which get most of their alcohol consumption from vodka.
The importance of local crops couldn’t be overstated. Regions like Africa and Asia that struggle with the right conditions for grapes or hops saw higher consumption of “other” distilled drinks.
These include rice alcohol in South Korea and Japan, and drinks made from sugarcane, molasses, and even bananas in African countries like Tanzania.
Unlike goods like coffee or tea, alcohol can be produced from many different grains, fruits, or sources of sugar that can be fermented—so it’s natural that regional differences in types, amounts, and even cultural importance would arise.
But as one of the world’s most widely used recreational drugs, it’s played a storied role throughout history that is certain to continue evolving.