Citizens of the small, post-Soviet republic of Moldova are the world's biggest drinkers, knocking back the equivalent of more than 18 litres of pure alcohol per year, according to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Moldovans drink nearly three times the global average of 6.1 litres per person per year.
Much of their consumption was made up by the "unrecorded" drinking of bootleg alcohol, according to the report, which is a study of drinking habits in over 100 countries spanning several decades, up to 2004.
Alcohol causes an estimated 2.5 million deaths every year globally, the report estimates, including 320,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Alcohol is the third-leading risk factor for poor health in the world. And drinking accounts for more deaths than either Aids or tuberculosis. The WHO called on governments across the world to do more to combat alcoholism and binge drinking.
Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It is split between ethnic Moldovans, who speak a language almost identical to Romanian, and ethnic Russians. The country is a major wine producer, with many people drinking cheap homemade wine, vodka and other spirits.
Other post-Soviet nations were also identified as culprits when it comes to drinking. While globally, only 6.2 per cent of male deaths and 1.1 per cent of female deaths were linked to alcohol, among Russian men this rises to a staggering 20 per cent and is one of the main reasons why male life expectancy in Russia hovers around 60. Among Russian women, six per cent of deaths are alcohol related.
Countries like Russia and Ukraine have traditionally been big vodka drinkers, but in the 20 years since the collapse of Communism beer has been added into the mix. It was only recently that beer was classified as an alcoholic drink in Russia.
Russia has a long history of alcohol problems and mixed attempts to fight them. Mikhail Gorbachev tried to ban vodka sales except for during a short window in the day, which led to him becoming hugely unpopular and to Russians taking to brewing moonshine.
Already in recent years, many Russian regions, including Moscow, have banned the sale of spirits during nighttime hours. And the head of the local parliament in the Ulyanovsk region recently suggested banning the sale of alcohol for the whole weekend.
This week, the head of Russia's supreme court said that of the 12,000 murders prosecuted in the country in 2010, 75 per cent of them were carried out under the influence of alcohol.
Britain was not that far behind the leaders of the pack, coming in at 13.4 litres of pure alcohol per year, compared with 18.1 litres for Moldovans and 16.5 litres for Czechs, who came in second place. Brits drank more beer than any other kind of alcohol, while Russians drank mostly spirits. The Moldovan intake was made up roughly equally of wine, spirits and beer.
While Moldovans drink more than anyone else, the WHO report confirmed that Russia and Ukraine were home to the most "risky" drinking. They were the only two countries to receive the top "five out of five" risk score, which was calculated for each country based on how people drink as well as how much.
Mediterranean countries came out as the least risky drinkers of all, despite consuming a large amount of alcohol. Britain was given a three out of five score, meaning that drinking was moderately risky.
Heaviest drinking countries
Estimated total alcohol consumption per person in litres:
Republic of Moldova 18.22
Czech Republic 16.45
UK 13.37Reuse content