Alcoholic beverage consumption among adults: sociodemographic characteristics and trends



Erly Catarina MouraI; Deborah Carvalho MaltaII, III

IDepartment of Epidemiological research on Nutrition and Health at Universidade de São Paulo (USP) - São Paulo (SP), Brazil
IIGeneral Coordination of Non-Communicable Diseases and Conditions - Secretariat of Health Surveillance - Ministry of Health - Brasília (DF), Brazil
IIINursing School at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) - Belo Horizonte (MG), Brazil

Correspondence to




OBJECTIVE: To estimate the prevalence of alcohol consumption, identify the associated sociodemographic characteristics in 2006, and evaluate consumption trends from 2006 to 2009.
METHODS: We evaluated 54,369 adults living in the 26 Brazilian state capitals and the Federal District. Usual consumption was related to drinking at least one dose of alcohol in the past 30 days, and binge consumption meant 5 or more doses for men and 4 or more for women at least once in the past 30 days.
RESULTS: The usual consumers represented 38.1% of the studied population and the binge drinkers were 16.2%; both frequencies were higher among men than women. The variables associated to the usual and abusive alcohol consumption were age, marital status and insertion in the job market for both genders and skin color for women. Schooling was only associated for usual consumers.
CONCLUSION: The trend of abusive alcohol consumption increased in both genders. Data endorse the need for national public policies aiming to prevent the abusive consumption of alcohol, mainly among the youngest.

Keywords: alcohol drinking; epidemiology; interviews as topic; Brazil.




Alcohol consumption is a common and historical habit in many societies. However, excessive alcohol use is considered as the most important risk factor for early deaths and disabilities in the world, including heart, liver, nutritional diseases, and some types of cancer, besides causing chemical dependency and enabling the occurrence of violence and accidents1.

In the past decades, there has been the attempt to universalize the patterns of alcohol consumption, considering the consumed dose (alcohol content) and the frequency of consumption. Many definitions have been established, from moderate to heavy (heavy drinking) and abusive (binge drinking), from sporadic to dependent. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been monitoring alcohol consumption in the United States since 1995, estimates the consumption of at least one dose in the past 30 days as intense (more than one dose a day for women and more than two doses a day for men), and as abusive (initially with four or more doses for women and five or more doses for men at least once in the past 30 days)2. Nowadays, five or more doses are considered for both genders3, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism4. However, literature is controversial as to the benefits for the body, because even in small doses, alcohol consumption is not recommended in some situations: for children, adolescents, pregnant women, drivers, workers who deal with heavy equipment, people with depression, recovering alcoholics, among others5.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that excessive alcohol use has increased in the world, ranging from 1.4% in India to 31.8% in Colombia, with riskier and more frequent consumption patterns in low and middle-income countries6; thus, different strategies to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol have been discussed by WHO and established in many countries.

In 2006, the telephone-based risk factor surveillance system for chronic diseases (VIGITEL) was established in Brazil, and one of the assessed subjects was alcohol consumption, which enables the analysis of the patterns of alcohol use in the population aged 18 years or more7. The first version of VIGITEL8 analyzed the weekly frequency of alcohol consumption for individuals who reported alcohol use in the past 30 days. For those who reported some weekly consumption, there was a question about consuming more than two doses on the same occasion for men and more than one for women. For those who answered "yes", the analysis was about consuming more than five doses on the same occasion for men and more than four doses for women. The second version9, in 2007, only questioned maximum limits (five and four doses for men and women, respectively), which remained the same in 200810. In the fourth version of VIGITEL, in 200911, these limits were altered to five or more and four or more doses, which were also maintained in 2010. Such changes were made in order to adjust the analysis to the international standard, and reduce the duration of the interview, without losing minimum comparison.

Therefore, this paper aimed to estimate alcohol use and identify the sociodemographic characteristics associated with this consumption in the adult population of the 26 state capitals and the Federal District, besides evaluating the consumption trend from 2006 to 2009.



Each year, VIGITEL interviews over 54,000 individuals, performing at least 2,000 interviews per location, being considered as a cross-sectional study. The assessed population is obtained by a random sample of the households with at least one landline telephone line and by the selection of one adult living in each household to participate. In order to expand the data for the general population, VIGITEL uses post-stratification weighting factors that consist of the multiplication of the following ratios: number of adults in each household/number of landline telephone lines in each household; frequency of specific categories of gender, age and schooling identified in Census 2000 in each city/frequency of the same categories analyzed by VIGITEL in each city; and number of adults identified in each city in Census 2000/number of adults analyzed by VIGITEL in each city.

For this study, two patterns of alcohol use were considered: 1) usual - alcohol consumption in the past 30 days, regardless of the dose - and 2) abusive - consumption of more than 5 doses for men and more than 4 doses for women, in at least one occasion in the past 30 days. Alcohol consumption was considered as a dependent variable, categorized as present or absent according to each standard. Independent variables were: age (divided into six age groups: 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64 or 65 years or older), ethnicity (divided into two groups, white or non-white), years of schooling (categorized in four groups: 0 to 4, 5 to 8, 9 to 11 or 12 years or more), stable union (categorized in two groups, yes or no), inclusion in the job market (categorized in two groups, yes or no).

Frequency estimates as to alcohol consumption were calculated according to independent variables, with a 95% confidence interval.

The year 2006 was chosen because of the basic alcohol consumption analyzed by VIGITEL. Crude and adjusted prevalence ratios of alcohol consumption were separately calculated for men and women, considering a 5% significance level (p<0.05). Poisson regression was used to calculate the prevalence ratio. Calculations were performed with the software Stata, version 9.2 (Stata Corp, College Station, Texas, USA).

The usual and abusive consumption trend was separately assessed for each gender by the Poisson regression, considering the consumption pattern as a dependent variable and the year of study as an explanatory variable. A usual and abusive consumption trend was presented between 2006 and 2009.

VIGITEL is approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Ministry of Health, and the interviews were conducted only after verbal consent.



Table 1 shows the frequency of alcohol consumption according to the independent variables. The habit of consuming alcohol reached 38.1% of the total population, out of which 42.0 (16.2% of the total) were regarded as abusive consumers. These numbers are usually higher among men: 2.1 times higher for usual and 3.1 times higher for abusive consumption. Alcohol use is more prevalent in the age group between 18 and 44 years, affecting approximately 42% of the population of usual consumption; after this age, the prevalence decreases and affects approximately 20% of those aged 65 years or older. The same pattern repeats itself for abusive consumption (ranging from 19% in the population aged 18 to 44 years to 2% after the age of 64). Schooling directly influences usual consumption, which ranges from 28.9% in lower levels of schooling to 47.7% in higher levels; abusive consumption increases from 11.4 to 17.5%. Those who are in a stable union demonstrated to consume less alcohol in both patterns, as well as those who work. In relation to skin color, there were no differences as to consumption patterns.

For both genders, the prevalence ratio of usual alcohol consumption decreases with age, increases with schooling, is lower for individuals in a stable union and higher among those who work. After adjustments regarding the females, the ratio is lower for those who have white skin (Table 2).

Abusive alcohol consumption (Table 3), both for men and women, shows that prevalence ratio increases with aging, is lower for people who are in a stable relationship and higher for those who work. However, after the adjustment, schooling loses significance for both genders. White women presented less chances of consuming alcohol (prevalence ratio=0.81).

Figure 1 shows that the usual alcohol consumption in the assessed population remained constant from 2006 to 2009; however, abusive consumption increased for both genders.




The habit of consuming alcohol at least once in the past 30 days was present in 38.1% of the adult population in the 26 state capitals and the Federal District, while the prevalence of abusive consumption (more than 5 doses for men and more than 4 doses for women at least once in the past 30 days) affected 16.2% of the total population, which represents more than 40% of the usual consumers. This number is lower than that obtained in the first national survey on alcohol consumption patterns, which identified 28% of the adult population as heavy drinkers12, such difference may be explained by the period of analysis, of 12 months, while our study was conducted in 30 days. The frequency of usual consumption in Brazil is approximately 31% lower than in the United States, and the one related to abusive consumption is similar, using the same cuts and telephone interviews. Data from the United States2 concerning the year 2006 showed that 55.2% of the population was related to usual consumption, and 15.4% to abusive consumption, also showing that 4.9% of the total population were considered as heavy drinkers. These numbers show that the frequencies of usual consumption remained the same (53.2% in 1995 and 53.9% in 2009), the frequencies of heavy consumption increased (2.9% in 2995 and 5.1% in 200), as well as the abusive consumption (14.1% in 1995 and 15.5% in 2009). This trend was also observed in Brazil in 2009, with 37.9% of usual consumption and 18.8% of abusive consumption11.

Only a few Brazilian population studies with adults about alcohol consumption patterns have been published, which limits the comparison of prevalent consumption patterns with this study, especially regarding the development of indicators. Most13-15 use the test recommended by WHO to identify problems related to alcohol consumption (Alcohol use disorders identification test - AUDIT) that analyzes not only the frequency of consumption and dose, but also the lack of control over consumption, lack of commitment, oblivion, regret, concern by other people and involvement with violence and accidents16. This test was validated in many countries, including Brazil14,17.

Despite the different classifications related to consumption, other Brazilian studies conducted with adults showed higher frequencies of alcohol consumption for men than for women, like the state of São Paulo in 1999, with 2,411 people aged from 12 to 65 years13, Rio Grande (RS), in 2000, with 1,260 people aged 15 years or older14, Salvador (BA), in 2001, that investigated 2,302 adults aged 25 years or more18, Campinas (SP) in 2003, that assessed 515 individuals aged 14 years or more15, and the first national survey performed with 2,346 adults in 2005 and 200612. The study conducted in Salvador18 showed that, after adjustments related to gender, age, marital status and social class, being a male and having a high socioeconomic level were factors associated with the high alcohol consumption (at least 8 doses a week, connected with drunkenness). In Rio Grande, the following characteristics were associated with higher alcohol consumption after the adjustment of all these variables plus age14: being a male, having a low socioeconomic level, smoking and presenting with some psychiatric disorder (anxiety/depression). However, the study from Campinas showed that gender was no longer significant after the adjustment for other variables, associating the following factors with higher alcohol consumption: young age, high income, low schooling, non-evangelical religion and use of illicit drugs15. The data related to higher consumption rates among men are in accordance with the international literature19-21. Some characteristics that are specific to each location may explain these differences, besides the difference of time between studies: Salvador has a coast, and Rio Grande has a broad rural area, which may justify the higher consumption among men, unlike Campinas, that has a lot of students due to its university.

As to age, alcohol consumption among adolescents is prevalent, especially abusive consumption, which is a concern and is similar to the findings in Campinas15, in Brazilian surveys regarding drug use22,23 and the first national survey12; this was considered as a risk group for violent deaths, traffic accidents, involvement in fights and use of illicit drugs. The analysis of data concerning more than 65,000 individuals aged 20 years or more in relation to the study of victims of accidents and violence in 2006 and 200724 shows that the report of previous intake of alcohol was significantly higher (p<0.001) among individuals younger than 40 years old (17.6%) than among those aged 40 years or more (12.0%). This situation is similar to that observed in 1998 and 1999 by Gazal-Carvalho et al.25 in the city of São Paulo. In Russia, a case-control study involving almost 50,000 deaths showed a risk approximately 6 times higher of deaths by accidents and violence in the group that presented high alcohol consumption, besides the risk for other diseases, especially chronic26.

Our data pointed to a higher prevalence of abusive alcohol consumption among young adults who are not in a stable union and those who work, especially men. These findings are important to plan prevention campaigns directed to these population strata against the excessive alcohol consumption. In 2000, the equivalent to 4% of the world morbidity and mortality were related to alcohol consumption27; in 2002, this factor was responsible for 3.7% of global mortality and for 4.4% of disease load5, showing a clear increasing trend.

Studies on alcohol consumption are difficult to compare when they are restricted to the amount of alcohol ingested, once the alcoholic content varies between drinks of the same type. The volume varies with the package and the amount ingested depends on what is reported by the participant, among other uncertainties, which is one of the limitations of this study. Regardless of these variations, the excessive alcohol consumption is harmful and favors the occurrence of accidents and violent situations involving other people. Even if the alcohol consumption pattern is not universal, knowing about the characteristics of the population that consumes the most is important for health planning.

Another limiting factor in this study refers to the self-reported alcohol consumption, which may have been underestimated especially in relation to high doses, since there are social restrictions to this behavior.

Finally, interviewing the residents of households with a landline telephone line excluded a significant part of the Brazilian population who do not have access to this service, especially in the North and Northeast regions, in which telephone coverage is low. This is partially adjusted by the post-stratification weight, just as performed in Canada on a survey regarding this subject28, for example.

The increased abusive alcohol consumption in the country in the analyzed period may be justified by the Brazilian culture, which socially accepts drinking. However, the limit dose for harmful consumption is not clear, especially among the young population. Also, the acceptance of excessive consumption is associated with the characteristics of the communities where the individual is inserted29, which reinforces the need for directed actions, besides the direct involvement of professionals and managers of primary attention to health30 and public policies31.

Governmental strategies to control excessive alcohol consumption have been successfully established. One example is the law nº 11,705, established in 2008, which reduces the permissible limit of alcohol to zero, increases the penalty and criminalizes the person who drives with 0.6 dcg or more of alcohol per liter of blood32. As a result of the publication of the law and the adhesion of the population, rates of people who drive after the abusive ingestion of alcohol have decreased33. The lack of inspection in relation to restriction to alcohol and advertisement, according to law nº 9,294/1996, has enabled the advertisement of alcohol connected with the promotion of national sports events. Although there is a quiet campaign for not driving after drinking, it does not focus on age limits and amounts that are harmful to health, for example. More structured public policies, like the ones related to smoking, are necessary and urgent to control the excessive alcohol consumption.



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Correspondence to:
Erly Catarina Moura
SQSW 504 Bloco F apto 306
CEP: 70673-506 - Brasília (DF), Brazil

Study carried out at the Ministry of Health.
Finacial support:
Conflict of interest: nothing to declare.
Submitted on: 05/01/2011
Final version presented on: 08/02/2011
Accepted on: 13/02/2011

Associação Brasileira de Pós -Graduação em Saúde Coletiva São Paulo - SP - Brazil