How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 1.

Sophie Weiner

Author

Cover Photo: 
Piotr Malecki/Panos

Yesterday, New York City's First Lady, Chirlane McCray, released a plan to combat mental illness and substance abuse in the city. Alongside it came a report with some shocking numbers, including the amount the city loses in productivity every year to alcohol abuse: $6 billion. This staggering figure got us thinking about how alcohol abuse affects cities around the world. A 2014 report from the World Health Organization details alcohol consumption and abuse in nearly every country on Earth. With that as a starting point, we investigated the unique laws, customs and problems presented by alcohol in cities from Tokyo to Dubai. 

Note: We've listed the majority of our sources at the end. All numbers are from the World Health Organizations's 2014 global alcohol report, which used self-reported data from internet surveys. These numbers may not represent the total number of people facing alcohol disorders in countries where people may be unwilling to self-report. Additional sources are listed at the bottom of this page.

 

 

Dubai

UAE

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 2.

0.5%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

0.7%

MALE

0.1%

FAMALE

   

As one might suspect, levels of alcoholism are low in this nearly dry Muslim country. Compared to its Islamic neighbor countries, where alcohol is flat-out banned, the UAE has a "liberal" policy but it may still seem draconian to most Westerners. Non-Muslims must apply for a license to drink in the UAE, and if caught by the police without one, can face jail time. These licenses must be run by applicants employers before they're approved. Public intoxication is also illegal. Tourists are technically required to have licenses, but this law is rarely enforced.

 

 

Mumbai

India

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 3.

male: 4.5%

female: 0.6%

 

2.6%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 74.2%

Former drinkers: 10.7%

India is home to 138 million Muslims, but that’s not the only reason the populous country is known for its abstinence. Gandhi himself advocated for total prohibition (“I would rather have India reduced to a state of pauperism than have thousands of drunkards in our midst. I would rather have India without education if that is the price to be paid for making it dry,” he said in 1927), which lasted between 1958 and 1972.

Three Indian provinces, Gujarat, Manipur, and Nagaland, still outlaw drinking today, while a patchwork of laws exists across other states. Yet alcohol consumption has risen 55% across the subcontinent in the last 20 years, and more young people are drinking sooner. Like in Dubai, drinking in Mumbai technically requires a drinking permit, but almost no one bothers with this formality. Tragically, earlier this year, nearly 100 people died in the city from ingesting cheap bootleg liquor that turned out to be poisonous.

 

 

Mexico City

Mexico

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 4.

male: 5.2%

female: 0.5%

 

2.7%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 22.6%

Former drinkers: 20.5%

Though the drinking age in Mexico is 18, the de facto age is said to be “tall enough to reach the bar”. Imbibers are rarely carded in the country. In Mexico City, there’s no legal closing time for bars or clubs. But alcohol consumption grinds to a halt before elections—sometimes up to 72 hours in advance. Drinking in public is illegal, but many people do it anyway. Despite this lenience, Mexico has a fairly low rate of alcohol disorder, at least according to WHO.

 

 

Tokyo

Japan

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 5.

male: 4.6%

female: 1.0%

 

2.8%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 12.0%

Former drinkers: 19.1%

There is a strong drinking culture in Japan which has prevented much acknowledgment of alcohol abuse in the past. “Not many people are aware that alcoholism is a disease,” Gen Otsuki, secretary-general of the All Nippon Abstinence Association (a Japanese take on Alcoholics Anonymous) told The Japan Times. Among professionals, drinking is so normalized, there’s even a slang term for drinking with your coworkers, “nomunication,” (a portmanteau combining the Japanese word nomu (to drink) with communication). Booze is available 24 hours a day, and vending machines with alcoholic drinks still exist some places in Tokyo. The percentage of people with alcohol abuse problems listed by WHO may be underreported. Addiction is stigmatized in Japan and people often only seek help when they have no other choice. 

 

 

Sydney

Austrailia

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 6.

male: 5.0%

female: 2.1%

 

3.5%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 10.0%

Former drinkers: 6.0%

The biggest controversy around alcohol abuse in Australia is the incidence of alcohol-fueled violence, largely among young people in cities and around sporting events. Earlier this year, new laws were put in place in New South Wales, which set earlier last-call times and limited the sale of alcohol from shops after 10 pm. Since the advent of these laws, assaults in Sydney were down 40%. Yet, despite these issues, Australia has a low percentage of people with alcohol abuse disorders, and a moderate YLL (Years of Life Lost, an index kept by WHO) score of 3.

 

 

Beijing

China

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 7.

male: 9.3%

female: 0.2%

 

4.9%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 38%

Former drinkers: 17.2%

There are essentially no laws governing liquor in Beijing though most bars close at 3 am. There is a high percentage of lifetime alcohol abstainers in China, in part due to the inability of many Chinese people to metabolize alcohol.

Binge drinking has become a major problem in China, specifically among professionals. The difference in alcohol abuse issues between men and women in China is dramatic—nearly 10%. According to The Economist, some job listings even encourage applicants to have a “good drinking capacity”. This culture means that though the consumption numbers may look low, all of the drinking is concentrated in a small number of people. The government has done little to address these problems compared to other nations, where there are often robust programs to address alcohol abuse. 

 

 

Tel Aviv

Israel

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 8.

male: 8.5%

female: 1.9%

 

5.1%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 41.3%

Former drinkers: 6.8%

Israel, where alcohol consumption resembles that of the West, is surrounded by Islamic nations where alcohol is illegal or consumption is severely limited. Tel Aviv is known as the party capital of the Middle East. Yet Israel is also a religious country, and in 2010, alcohol sales were banned in stores between 11 pm and 6 am. “We are at the onset of an epidemic,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time, warning of statistics that showed high drinking rates for young people. But Israel is scored as only a 2 out of 5 on WHO’s YLL index, lower than many other developed countries.

 

 

Paris

France

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 9.

male: 8.8%

female: 2.5%

 

5.5%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 2.0%

Former drinkers: 3.2%

Almost everyone in France drinks. While the lifelong abstainers of both genders average to 2%, for men, the number drops to below 1%. And yet, the French do not make the top of the list when it comes to alcohol disorders, falling well below many other countries. Earlier this year, a longstanding law banning alcohol from being used in product placement and alcohol brands from sponsoring sports games came under attack by the alcohol lobby. “The current debate is completely crazy. I’m not demanding that the law be stricter, only to leave it alone. And I don’t know if I’ll succeed because the wine and alcohol lobby in France is stronger that the public health lobby,” said Health Minister Marisol Touraine.

 

 

Johannesburg

South Africa

 How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 10.

male: 10%

female: 1.5%

 

5.6%

people with ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 42%

Former drinkers: 17.3%

Laws governing the use of alcohol are loose in South Africa. Earlier this year, the Minister of Trade and Industry passed a new set of federal laws that place many new restrictions on businesses serving alcohol, including, strangely enough, that they provide free condoms.

Other new policies are more basic, like checking the ID of underage-looking people, and not serving intoxicated people.

 

 

Rio De Janiero

Brazil

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 11.

male: 8.2%

female: 3.2%

 

5.6%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 21.9%

Former drinkers: 20.4%

Drinking is allowed in most public places in Rio de Janiero, but no longer in soccer stadiums, due to fights that often erupted outside. The most famous party in Rio, of course, is Carnival, when tourists and locals flood the streets to drink and dance for days. This partying has a price: Rio has the highest score, 5, on WHO’s YLL index.

 

 

Dublin

Ireland

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 12.

male: 10.9%

female: 3.4%

7.1%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 6.7%

Former drinkers: 12.4%

Despite Ireland’s heavy-drinking reputation, the incidence of alcohol disorders averaged for both genders isn’t as high as in the US. It should be noted that the percentage of men is 7 points higher than women. In 2008, Dublin banned public drinking in parks and on streets.

 

 

New York City

USA

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 13.

male: 10.7%

female: 4.2%

 

7.4%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 12.0%

Former drinkers: 31.1%

New York is one of the most liberal states in the country when it comes to alcohol sale. Bars in the state may serve alcohol till 4 am (though this isn’t true in every county). Buying liquor outside of a bar is a little more difficult. Grocery stores, and, as many New Yorkers know, bodegas, can sell beer and wine coolers (“wine product”), but wine with over 6% alcohol and hard liquor must be sold in a liquor store. 

 

 

London

England

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 14.

male: 16.3%

female: 6.0%

 

11.1%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 15.1%

Former drinkers: 1.0%

Alcohol abuse is a big problem in the UK, which, in 2014, had the 25th highest consumption of any country on Earth. Government initiatives have worked to inform people of the dangers of alcoholism and binge drinking, which they categorize as more than six drinks in one night. But a subsequent study found these government guidelines to be “unrealistic” and out of sync with the reality of British lifestyle. Meanwhile, alcohol continues to fuel business in the nation’s capital. Just today, London’s first alcohol delivery app was approved.

 

 

Moscow

Russia

How common is alcohol abuse in cities around the world?. Image 15.

male: 31.0%

female: 6.2%

 

17.4%

PEOPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE DISORDERS

Lifetime abstainers: 13.0%

Former drinkers: 19.1%

Russia is known for its severe problems with alcohol abuse, and WHO’s report bears this out. The rate of alcohol abuse issues for men is 15%, higher than any other country listed here. The problem is extreme: Russian men drink 70% more spirits than American men, and 30% of all Russian deaths in 2012 were attributed to alcohol. The government has pushed to curb drinking since the 1980s, with little success. A month ago, a Russian lawmaker proposed making Wednesdays dry days, to cut down on drinking, starting in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Both cities have recently limited alcohol sales past 11 pm and outlawed public drinking.

 

 

Sources: New York City 1, 2 Johannesburg 1 Rio de Janiero 1, 2 Mexico City 1, 2 Dubai 1, Paris 1 Dublin 1 Tel Aviv 1 Moscow 1, 2, 3 London 1, 2, 3, 4 Mumbai 1, 2, 3 Sydney 1, 2 Beijing 1, 2, 3 Tokyo 1

Cover photo: Piotr Malecki / Panos