In this week’s episode, Taboo looks at the sometimes questionable and even dangerous effects that alcohol can have on some individual’s lives. The way people interact with booze has much to do with culture as well as individual behavior. Alcohol consumption is met with different expectations and limitations from country to country. Most countries however, have a cultural affinity for a particular drink and a long cultural history surrounding it. Whether that drink is simply a part of an occasional celebration or a problem with over-consumption varies.

In an effort to combat the dangers of alcohol abuse, the World Health Organization released a 2011 global status report of consumption around the world. Looking at alcohol sales and estimates of unrecorded usage, WHO determined approximately how many liters per person were consumed annually in 193 countries. The United States lands about in the middle of the report consuming only 9.44 liters of alcohol per person, per year, which is about half the amount of what is consumed by the hardest drinking countries.

Here are a few highlights of the list.

  • Ireland comes in at number 13 with a per capita alcohol consumption of 14.41 liters.
  • Portugal, famous for port wine is 12th on the list consuming 14.55 liters with 6.65 coming from wine consumption.
  • Russia, known for its vodka, sits at number 4 on the list with a per capita consumption of 15.76 liters and 6.88 liters of that is from spirits.
  • The Czech Republic is number two on the list with 16.45 liters consumed per person and
  • Moldova, number 1 on the list comes in a whopping 18.22 liters per person.

The World Health Organization noted that alcohol can be a major problem in the harder drinking countries stating that “Nearly 4% of all deaths are related to alcohol. Most alcohol-related deaths are caused by alcohol result from injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver cirrhosis.” Some countries have a particularly dangerous relationship with alcohol with one-in-five men in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries dying due to alcohol-related causes.

When alcohol becomes a pathway to an early death, then it becomes taboo. All the same, many countries have a particular drink that is a part of their national cultural identity and when consumed moderately it is not a problem, but a celebration. If you want to join in the world party, here a few favored drinks with nationally specific origins:

  • Portugal: Port Wine, a fortified wine produced exclusively in Portugal. Normally it is a sweet, red wine and favored as a dessert wine
  • Ireland: Irish Whiskey, spirits distilled and aged in Ireland and made from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains.
  • Italy: Lemoncello, a lemon-based liqueur produced in Southern Italy.
  • Czech Republic: Slivovice, a brandy made from Damson plums.
  • Russia: Russian Vodka, spirits made by the distillation of fermented grains, potatoes, or sometimes fruits and/or sugar.
  • Japan: Sake, an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.
  • Mexico: Tequila, liquor distilled and aged in Mexico made from the agave plant.
  • United States: Bourbon, an American whiskey made primarily from corn and barrel aged.

When is it too much, though? When and how often you raise your glass may or may not be Taboo. Watch this week’s episode Taboo: Booze and decide for yourself when drinking is just a way to blow off steam and when is crossing the line. Tune in Sunday, July 1st at at 10 et/pt.

Here’s a preview from the upcoming episode that features a unique homeless housing project in Seattle that allows alcoholic residents to freely drink while living on the premises, but the results are different than you might imagine.