The Battle Against Alcohol Consumption in Moldova

Despite only having a population of roughly 2.6 million people, alcohol consumption in Moldova has consistently been among the world’s highest. In 2016, the country was number one, with a per capita consumption of 15.2 liters among people ages 15 and up. Focusing only on the members of the population who drink, the per capita consumption was 22.8 liters. Yet, countries like Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, which consumed 27.9 liters and 24 liters respectively, passed Moldova’s consumption.

WHO reported that Moldova also had the highest percentage of deaths from alcohol-related causes – 26.1% of total deaths. About one in four deaths have a link to alcohol compared to the world average of one in 20. To put the matter in greater perspective, the population of Moldova was roughly 2.8 million in 2016, while the crude death rate was 11.45 deaths per 1,000 people. That means there were about 32,060 deaths, around 8,368 of which occurred due to alcohol-related causes.

About Alcohol Consumption in Moldova

To better understand the heavy alcohol consumption and the high number of alcohol-related deaths in Moldova, it is important to ask how and why drinking became such an issue, even when compared to countries notorious for drinking like Russia, Ukraine and Germany. One of the main contributing factors is Moldova’s wine-drinking culture and the prevalence of homemade wine. In 2016, wine made up 56.6% of the recorded alcohol consumed. Beer accounted for 16.2% and spirits made up 25.2%, according to the WHO report.

A WHO report shows that 60% of the total alcohol that people consumed in Moldova was unrecorded, compared to Russia, which had an unrecorded consumption of 24%, and Ukraine, which showed that 36% of its alcohol consumption was not on record. The majority of the unrecorded alcohol Moldovans consumed was homemade wine. However, if one bases alcohol consumption in Moldova strictly off sales data, an entirely different narrative unfolds.

According to Moldova’s official sales data from 1970 to 2015, wine consumption appears to have peaked at more than 50% of total consumption in the late 1980s. Following the 1980s, wine consumption experienced a rapid decline until 1995. After this, consumption rose slightly before falling to its lowest point in 2005 when wine consumption made up about 10% of the total. From there, it rose to just below 20%, as a study published in the European Journal of Population showed.

Understanding Wine Consumption in Moldova

The sales data makes it appear as though spirits have dominated alcohol consumption since the 1980s, it is on the decline while beer is on the rise. Meanwhile, the data implies wine consumption has accounted for the lowest share of consumption since before 2000. However, further research states that most of Moldova’s alcohol consumption is unrecorded, wine consumption is the main type of unrecorded consumption and that Moldova has a wine-drinking culture. This demonstrates how significant the issue of homemade wine really is.

There are a few significant points about the fact that people are making, buying and consuming so much homemade wine is significant. Firstly, there is the issue of the circumstances when people consume wine instead of beer and spirits. People generally consume beer and spirits for leisure, like when someone is at a party or goes out with friends, usually in the evening or at night. On the other hand, they often consume wine with meals anywhere from the afternoon onward. In addition, people also consume it at celebrations, according to the previously mentioned study.

A wine drinker could easily consume wine every day at dinner and think nothing of it. A social drinker who likes beer or spirits might at most only go out and drink with friends once or twice on weekends. In wine-drinking cultures, wine is practically a necessity with certain meals, so people in countries that have such cultures drink wine ritually. Chronic conditions like cirrhosis of the liver frequently occur due to the regular wine-drinking Moldovans engage in. The same study shows that since homemade wine is unregulated, it is unknown what all could be in it. As a result, it could be more harmful than legally distributed wine.

Anti-Alcohol Measures

Although alcohol consumption in Moldova has been significant, the situation has improved as the government and NGOs make efforts to reduce consumption, alcohol-related diseases and deaths. For decades, Moldova did not take any anti-alcohol measures after experiencing the increased life expectancy benefits of measures the Soviet Union took in 1985. Without measures in place, alcohol consumption rose to more than 23 liters per adult in 1997. By 2004, it was above 21 liters.

Efforts to Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Deaths

In 2012, the government adopted the National Program on Alcohol Control that would be in effect until 2020. A few of the measures within the program were raising the age requirement to buy alcohol, reducing the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers and raising the price floor on certain alcohol products. The first and third measures, however, could simply drive people to consume cheaper, homemade alcohol.

In a low-middle income country, heavy alcohol consumption can slash deep into many Moldovan’s budgets. Homemade wine that is cheaper than milk is alluring to drinkers living in poverty. It is satisfying and worsening their alcohol addictions, which in turn leads to spending more money on alcohol. This is why the charity Mission Without Borders has provided regular food packages to 500 families struggling with alcoholism. However, according to Time, people sometimes exchange these packages for alcohol.

In 2014, Dr. Andrei Usatîi, Moldova’s Minister of Health, initiated a nationwide alcohol awareness campaign to inform Moldovans about the dangers of alcohol abuse. The automobile club “Automobil Club din Moldova” conducted a survey of 9,000 drivers as part of its 2015 anti-drunk driving campaign. Only 15% of Moldovan drivers knew the legal blood alcohol content for drivers. However, 16.75% of respondents claimed they were used to driving after drinking heavily. In 2012, WHO found that 69% of Moldovan drinkers are unconcerned about future alcohol-related health problems. Also, 81% do not plan to start drinking less.

The Future of Alcohol Consumption in Moldova

With alcohol-related causes accounting for 26.1% of deaths in Moldova, a country that at times has consumed more alcohol than anywhere, serious changes must occur. WHO projects that alcohol consumption will only be down to 15.1 liters from 15.2 in 2025. However, government and NGO efforts can bring consumption down further. Informing the people and taking measures against alcohol, particularly homemade wine, is essential for reducing casualties and chronic diseases.

Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr