Europeans knocked back 79 billion liters of alcohol in 2006, or 101.25 liters for every person. In the U.S. the figure was 98.7 liters per person, while in the Asia Pacific region, it was just 22.1, according to research consultancy International Wine and Spirits.
It's no surprise that Europe is home to the world's heaviest drinkers; from whiskey in Scotland to wine in France, the continent has some long and deeply embedded alcohol traditions. Nevertheless, our ranking of Europe's heaviest-drinking nations revealed some startling results.
By The Numbers: Europe's Biggest Drinkers
Croatia, the Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea, came in at No. 1, while Britain, where fears about binge drinking have prompted a flurry of new legislation, came in at only No. 15. France and Sweden didn't even rank in the top 20.
We graded each country based on alcohol consumption per capita, legal restrictions on drinking, diseases resulting from alcohol abuse, and whether drinking habits, such as binge drinking or drinking in public places, are especially risky.
Each country was assigned a rank on the basis of each data set; the results were then totaled to produce a final rank.
Though Croatia came in only at No. 5 in terms of per capita consumption, the risky drinking pattern of its population, as well as high death rates from cirrhosis, put it at the top of our list. In terms of per-capita alcohol consumption alone, the Czech Republic came in first. Hungarians suffer the highest death rate from cirrhosis.
Europe isn't just a heavy consumer of alcohol--booze production plays an important role in the economy. It's home to some of the world's largest drink companies, such as Jameson whiskey maker Pernod Ricard, and Diageo (nyse: DEO - news - people ), the company behind brands such as Smirnoff and Guinness. According to a report by the Institute of Alcohol Studies for the European Commission (IAS), Europe produces a quarter of the world's alcohol, and the booze industry employs around 750,000 people in production alone.
But alcohol consumption takes a heavy toll. The tangible costs of drinking in the European Union, including health costs and loss of workforce productivity, were estimated at some 125 billion euros ($197.3 billion) in 2003, or 1.3% of gross domestic product, according to the study.
Nearly all the top 15 biggest drinking nations are in Central or Eastern Europe. Poverty and the harsh climate, particularly in Russia, play a part, as does the tradition of drinking. "Where it's extremely cold it's not uncommon for people to drink all day long," said Val Smith, president of International Wine and Spirits, which provided the data on per-capita alcohol consumption.
And particularly in agrarian regions; farmers often produce their own home brews from anything ranging from potatoes to sugar beets, making alcohol very accessible and very cheap, said Smith. This also makes per capita consumption hard to measure, with official figures sometimes well below actual consumption rates.
After a surge in binge drinking during the mid-1990s, Western Europe has sobered up substantially as greater affluence, education and the professionalization of the work force have changed drinking patterns, according to Ben Baumberg, policy and research officer at the IAS who authored the European Commission's report. A bottle of wine at lunch has become much less common in places like France and Italy.
To determine Europe's drunkest countries we ranked 33* nations in four areas: consumption, regulation, riskiness of drinking patterns and health impact. The top 15 are included in our ranking.
Drinking: European countries were ranked 1 to 33 on the basis of per capita alcohol consumption during 2006, gathered by consultancy International Wine and Spirits.
Regulation: Using information from the World Health Organization for Europe's alcohol control data base, we assigned each country a score of 1 (the least restrictive) to 9 (the most restrictive) based on laws affecting alcohol consumption, including age restrictions on sales and opening hours at bars.
Drinking Pattern: We used the World Health Organization's scores for risky drinking behavior, which includes binge drinking and drinking in public places. Each country is assigned a score of 1 to 4, 1 being the least risky and 4 being the most.
Health Impact: We used data from the World Health Organization's Global Information System on Alcohol and Health to rank the countries from 1 to 33 based on the death rate from cirrhosis, a liver disease caused by alcoholism, per 100,000 people.
Weighting: Each of the four factors was given equal weight. Per capita consumption was used to break ties.
*Moldova, Albania and Cyprus were excluded from as complete data was not available.