Imbibing in alcohol is a major part of many cultures. The rituals associated with drinking are unique to communities and every country differs in the laws and regulations that surround the activity. In our research, we were curious to see if there was a correlation between legal drinking age and the prevalence of alcoholism, for example.
Every few years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) produce new findings related to various worldwide drinking habits. We compiled some of the more interesting data and compared and contrasted the largest drinking countries with the smallest drinking countries to see where their drinking behaviors overlapped and where they differed.
First, we wanted to show the stark difference in total alcohol consumption between those countries with heavy drinking cultures and those where alcohol is effectively banned.
Big Drinkers vs. Little Drinkers
Next, we created a chart cross-referencing annual alcohol consumption with the legal drinking age. We were curious if a lower drinking age dramatically increased the chances of drinking heavily throughout life, or if the two were unrelated. We looked at the top 20 largest countries to determine if there was a relationship between these two data points.
From the chart, we can see that the countries involved have some significant differences in religion and culture — and policy, as a result. Many people in the US argue that we should lower our drinking age. They say that if we’re sending Americans off to war at 18, they should be allowed to legally purchase a beer. But, opponents to that theory state that lowering the drinking age would increase the amount of alcohol we consume and lead to alcoholism and alcohol-related health problems. Judging by the data, that shouldn’t necessarily be a concern. Annual consumption per capita in the US is approximately 9.2 L, despite having a stricter (i.e. older) legal drinking age. Here’s how the other countries stack up:
Alcohol Consumption vs. Legal Drinking Age
Additionally, the x-axis is fairly inconclusive because there are just a few different drinking age variations. In general, it seems as if culture (in this case, a population that is primarily Muslim) has a far greater effect on drinking behavior than legal drinking age.
Looking at the top 10 largest countries in the world, we were curious to see the adult beverage of choice.
Largest Countries’ Drink of Choice
Next, we looked at the countries with the greatest alcohol consumption per capita and narrowed it down to their favorite beverage. As expected, the countries in the Baltic region had the highest alcohol consumption, but it was interesting how prevalent liquor was on the chart. Only 2 countries (Lithuania and Slovakia) preferred beer. As an American, we see extremely high rates of beer consumption compared with wine and spirits. Judging by this data, it’s no surprise that there are pervasive stereotypes about Russians drinking vodka like it’s water.
Big Drinkers’ Drink of Choice
Finally, we looked at the countries with the lowest drinking rates to see what their beverages of choice were. When you consume almost no alcohol at all, what manages to rise above the rest? Beer was the drink of choice in the majority of those countries where little to no alcohol is consumed.
Light Drinkers’ Drink of Choice
Ultimately, the findings supported some of our initial assumptions, but nothing is conclusive. Discovering that Russians love their spirits, for instance, was no real surprise. Simply because a country has a low drinking age does not imply that lower legal age of consumption will lead to increased drinking over a lifetime. They could be linked through other, less obvious, cultural factors.