Alcohol consumption: Moldova vs Others

On 11th February 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) published the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011 and earlier on 5th January 2011 they published the European Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2010. Since then on a lot of websites circulated the idea that Moldova is worldwide No.1 drinking country with an average consumption of 18.2 litres of pure alcohol per person per year. After reading some comments, mostly expressing deeply the injustice of WHO towards Moldovan people, I decided to download both reports and have a closer look at the data and see what’s hidden behind this number.

How much is 18.2 litres of pure alcohol?

First of all I want to make clear what means 18.2 litres of pure alcohol in more common terms as beer, wine and spirits. According to WHO the following guideline is used for the conversion into litres of pure alcohol: 5% for beer, 12% for wine and 40% for spirits.
So 1 l of pure alcohol corresponds to 20 l beer or 8.33 l wine or 2.5 l spirits. Using multiplication we obtain the following amount of drinks per Moldovan person per year: 364 l beer or 152.7 l wine or 45.5 l spirits. Divide by 52 and we get the corresponding amount per week: 7 l beer or 2.92 l wine or 0.875 l spirits. In order to top up to this amount if you are Moldovan you have to drink weekly about 14 beers or 4 bottles of wine (a regular bottle of wine has 0.75 l) or 29 shots of spirits (a regular shot is 30 ml).
Health agencies of various governments have different maximum alcohol intake recommendations. In UK, for instance, the maximum recommended weekly amount for men is 210ml of pure alcohol, and 140ml for women. This is equivalent of about 10 beers for men or 7 beers for women. Thus, Moldovans are exceeding British safety level by roughly a third.
Ok, we admit it: we do drink a lot, but let’s see how is the situation in other countries, particularly neighbouring countries Romania, Ukraine and Russia and Europe as a whole.

Data interpretation

WHO uses several key indicators for describing each country’s drinking profile: types of beverages, consumption of recorded and unrecorded alcohol per capita (APC), average alcohol consumption among drinkers (not abstainers), abstainers (lifetime and former drinkers), alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependence, fatal road accidents, patterns of drinking.

So, what total alcohol consumption per capita (APC) means? APC is obtained by summing the entire amount of alcohol (recorded and unrecorded) consumed in a country during a year and divided by total adult population (15+ years).

But not every adult drinks, there is a proportion of persons that don’t use alcohol at all (lifetime abstainers)  and then there is the proportion of adults who used to drink in the past, but because of different reasons did not drink in the last year (former drinkers).  Here is a chart with the abstention rate.

You can clearly see that Moldova has the lowest rate of abstainers. We do drink, but all together. I will introduce an observation from Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health:

“Lifetime abstention is the opposite of per capita consumption. In countries with high APC, there are fewer lifetime abstainers compared to countries with low APC. This suggests that WHO regions with the highest per capita consumption commonly found in the European Region or other developed areas, do not necessarily have the highest consumption per drinker. Often, per drinker consumption is particularly high in countries with moderate or even low APC combined with high abstention rates In such countries, the relatively smaller percentage of the population that drinks is consuming alcohol at high levels.”

In order to make a better estimate of alcohol consumption you have to extract the population that doesn’t drink at all or didn’t drink for the last year from the total population and you get the total population who drinks.  And then you divide the total alcohol consumption over a year to the total population who drinks and you get the average consumption per drinker.

Below is the chart of alcohol consumption per drinking capita.

Yeah, Russians drink more than Moldovans, and so do Romanians and Ukrainians. Actually let’s not celebrate we aren’t far behind.

After reading the reports I collected the data about alcohol consumption among drinkers in 39 European countries. Only Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Ukraine, Portugal, Russia, Croatia, Andorra and Romania drink more that Moldova. The drinking score per capita among drinkers vary from as little as 5.48 litres pure alcohol in Israel to 55.99 litres in Bosnia and Herzegovina (this value is unusually high even comparing to second larger score Turkey with 29.42 and I think it require further investigation). Moldova is No 9 in this top with an average intake per year of 23.39 litres of pure alcohol per capita; it’s still a lot of alcohol, but it is of some consolation that we are lower in the top comparing to Russians and Ukrainians.

And finally let’s see what Moldovans, Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans like to drink.

Moldovans nearly equally drink wine, beer and spirits. Europeans drink a little bit less wine, Romanian less beer, whereas Ukrainians and Russians don’t like the wine at all and drink much more beer (Ukraine) and spirits (Russia).

WHO data sources and methodology

Both reports use data provided by Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH).

The recorded consumption comes from production, import, export, and sales data often via taxation.The unrecorded consumption is based on European Survey on Alcohol and Health that was sent to all Member States of WHO in 2008.

I didn’t find any document entitled Global Survey on Alcohol and Health on WHO website, but I found the general WHO guideline to surveys: World Health Survey. And on – European Commission website I found a document regarding WHO’s survey about alcohol entitled Global Survey on Alcohol and Health and Global Information System on Alcohol and Health.

Unfortunately, there is no information published about how and who conducted the survey in Moldova. On Moldova’s profile on WHO website there is no information regarding this. I sent them an email inquiring about the survey and I am still waiting for an answer.

I prepared an analysis with full-description of the key indicators, along with a more detailed description of data sources, survey, possible errors and more tables and graphs.  For those interested it is available for download here:
Full analysis report (2531)


YES, Moldovans do drink a lot, more than most of Europeans, however less than Russians or Ukrainians and in a less harmful way. And I have to outline that this analysis is as reliable as the data provided by European Survey on Alcohol and Health.

So anyone up for a drink?


  1. AnneMc Carthy

    Well done Viorica, somewhat disappointed you didnt include Ireland in your survey, you were probably afraid that we would come out on top and knock Moldova off the number one position!!!!
    You did a great job talk to you tomorrow

  2. martin verboon

    seems Moldavia has quite a healththy drinking culture. Better than us Dutch and also the Brits with our decadent binge drinking habits!

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