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South Africa’s president worried about country’s ‘high alcohol consumption level’. Where does it rank?

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Following the lifting of a two-month ban on the sale of alcohol in South Africa, “excessive abuse of alcohol” has led to many social ills. These were the words of president Cyril Ramaphosa during a virtual engagement with the public on 1 July 2020. 

“We are seen as one of the countries in the world that has a high alcohol consumption level,” he said.

What percentage of South Africans drink alcohol? And where does the country rank internationally? We took a look at some of the latest figures. 

50th for total alcohol consumption

The World Health Organization, or WHO, produces global alcohol and health status reports. These provide data on alcohol consumption across the world for people aged 15 years and older. 

The latest report shows that, on average, South Africans over the age of 15 consumed 9.3 litres of pure alcohol each in 2016. The figure was 16.2 litres for men and 2.7 litres for women. 

Based on these figures, South Africa ranked 50th out of 195 countries for total alcohol consumed per capita in 2016. The eastern European country, Moldova, took the top spot with a per capita consumption of 15.2 litres, followed closely by Lithuania (15 litres) and the Czech Republic (14.4 litres). 

South Africa’s average per capita consumption was 1.45 times higher than the global average, which was 6.4 litres per person in 2016. The average consumption in sub-Saharan Africa was 6.3 litres per person. 

High levels of ‘heavy episodic drinking’

But not all South Africans drink alcohol. Almost 70% of South Africans over 15 abstained from drinking alcohol in 2016. This group was made up of 53.5% of people who had never consumed alcohol and 15.5% who used to drink but had stopped. 

The issue in South Africa, however, is high levels of binge drinking among those who do drink, experts have previously told Africa Check. 

“Moderate drinking, however you define it, is relatively rare in South Africa,” said Prof Neo Morojele, consultant with the South African Medical Research Council’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit.  

Of those South Africans who drink, 59% of them engage in “heavy episodic drinking” or binge drinking. The WHO defines this as consumption of “60 or more grams of pure alcohol on at least one occasion at least once per month”.

Standard drink measures vary from country to country but in South Africa, a person could be considered a binge drinker if they drink four 340ml bottles of beer or 600 millilitres of white wine in one sitting. 

In 2016, South Africa ranked 23rd out of 195 countries for heavy episodic drinking among those who drink. 

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