Which Country Consumes The Most Alcohol Per Capita?

Discussions of alcohol may involve some places more often than others. For example, 41 of the 50 drunkest U.S. counties are in Wisconsin. Likewise, while tea may be an integral part of British culture (likely thanks to Catherine of Braganza), the U.K. is also well-known for its alcohol consumption, with over 30% of citizens reporting heavy drinking at least once per month, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The world's biggest consumer by the liter, however, is Zimbabwe — and not by a small margin. According to data from Wisevoter, Zimbabwe's consumption per capita sits at 62.8 liters, considerably higher than runner-up Tunisia's 36.6 liters.

As any well-seasoned traveler knows, tourist drinking can significantly impact a country's alcoholic intake. The Bahamas, for example, saw tourists consume almost 6 liters of alcohol in 2019, according to the World Health Organization (WHO); meanwhile, the country's per capita figure is 10.1 liters, per Wisevoter. Zimbabwe isn't like The Bahamas, however, as WHO reports that tourists consume zero liters of alcohol, indicating that the country's high consumption is all local.

This isn't a long-standing tradition among Zimbabweans, nor is it a result of steadily increasing drinking levels. Based on data from WHO, Zimbabwe averaged a per capita consumption of only 3.26 liters between 2000 and 2019. This dramatic increase is the consequence of two key factors: The COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of Zimbabwe's backyard brewers.

The rise of fake alcohol in Zimbabwe

An economic analysis carried out by The World Bank found that Zimbabwe was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Research showed that citizens encountered mass job losses, food insecurity, and poverty, and the systematic failure of health and social care systems pushed to the brink. In the wake of this economic and social crisis, imitation alcohol sold at extremely cheap prices lined market stalls and shebeens (unlicensed bars).

These drinks, made from dyed ethanol or methanol that has been diluted with water, could be purchased in packs of 12 for as little as $5. Speaking to The Guardian, one seller described "looking for used bottles" to package her product as cheaply as possible. Later in the piece, that same seller recalled a neighbor's sudden death and suggested it was a result of the "musombodia," a colloquial term for the brew.

To crack down on the creation and sale of illicit alcohol, Zimbabwean authorities began carrying out police raids on backyard brewers. In a 2023 statement to Reuters, police spokesperson Paul Nyathi claimed that 4,000 suspects had been arrested over mere months. Companies also stepped in; Jameson Irish Whiskey, for example, introduced extra features on its packaging, including a plastic seal on the lid of each bottle and a sticker stating, "Drink Responsibly."