Fewer Indians start drinking, those who drink drink more, says NFHS


New Delhi: Indians are not drinking as much alcohol as they were in the first decade of this century, suggest results from the Fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), conducted between 2019 and 2021.

According to NFHS-5 data, by 2021, only 22.9% of men and 0.7% of women in India aged 15-54 consumed alcohol. This is part of a larger trend seen in the NFHS data – that of a steady decline, between 2006 and today, in the number of Indians who drink.

Between NFHS-3 (2005-06) and NFHS-4 (2015-16), the number of Indian men who drank alcohol fell from 32% to 29%. In the case of women, this number fell from 2.2% to 1.2%.

“The proportion of men who drink alcohol decreased from 29% to 22%, between NFHS-4 in 2015-16 and NFHS-5 in 2019-21. During this period, the proportion of women who drink remained unchanged,” says the NFHS-5 report, released May 6.

Chart: Ramandreep Kaur | The footprint

However, contrary to these findings, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), a Delhi-based policy think tank, in a published report last August said India’s liquor industry is worth $52.5 billion and is expected to grow 6.8% year-on-year to 2023.

The NFHS-5 data also does not support the findings of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2018 State of Alcohol and Health Report, which estimated a 38% increase in consumption. of alcohol per capita among people aged 15 or over in India during the period 2010-2017.

“The survey (NFHS-5) was conducted between 2019 and 2021, which can be considered abnormal years. Therefore, large variations in household interviews are expected. During this period, we have seen two significant blockages and as a result access to alcohol has become restricted,” said Monika Arora, director of the health promotion division at the based think tank. at Gurugram Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

The growth of India’s alcohol market despite a drop in the number of Indians drinking could also mean that those who drink alcohol are drinking more than before, said Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, additional professor of psychiatry at National Drug Addiction Treatment Center. (NDDTC), AIIMS-Delhi.

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Lockdowns caused the decline?

Due to the time frame for NFHS-5 and the Covid-19 lockdown, this data is not comparable to NFHS-4 data, Arora said, adding, “If there was a decline in alcohol consumers in India, it should be reflected in sales, revenue and other market data, but it is not visible here. In fact, beer and spirits sales data in India showed a sharp increase in 2021, and companies even reported higher volumes compared to pre-COVID sales.

Arora said it was also possible that respondents would not answer questions about alcohol consumption truthfully if the data collection coincided with the lockdown, because alcohol was not sold at the time and respondents would not have reported drinking if they had purchased alcohol illegally.

“The other reason could also be that it was a temporary change in behavior due to access restrictions and multiple health authorities issuing advisories to stay healthy to avoid serious Covid consequences. during the lockdown, but the market recovery reported by alcohol companies in 2021 does not reflect any reduction in alcohol consumption in India,” she said.

“Fewer Indians are drinking more”

“That means a relatively smaller proportion of people are consuming a relatively larger volume of alcohol,” Balhara said, referring to the discrepancy between market trends and NFHS-5 data. Balhara, along with other researchers, had conducted a study on the decline in alcohol consumption in India, based on available statistics for 16 states.

The NFHS-5 data also shows that while the number of Indians who consume alcohol has decreased, there has been a significant increase in the frequency of alcohol consumption.

Chart: Ramandreep Kaur | The footprint

In 2005-2006, about 10% of Indian men consumed alcohol daily. A decade later, that number was 12.4%, and by 2019-21 it had risen to 15.4%.

There has also been an increase in the number of Indians who drink alcohol at least once a week, from 26.9% in 2005-2006 to 43.5% in 2019-21. At the same time, the number of men who drink alcohol less than once a week fell from 63% in 2005-2006 to 41% in 2019-21.

Goa experiences the highest increase in alcohol consumption

Tripura has seen the largest drop in alcohol consumption among men aged 15-49 – from 57.6% in 2015-16 to 35.9% in 2019-21, still well above the national average of 22.9%.

Alcohol consumption among men has fallen by more than 10% in at least seven states/union territories: Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh, Bihar and Kerala.

However, four Indian states/UT recorded an increase in the number of men who admitted to drinking alcohol.

In Goa, 59.1% of men reported consuming alcohol in 2019-21, up from 44.7% in 2015-2016, the highest increase of any state. Not far behind is the union territory of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, where the number of men who reported drinking alcohol rose to 41.8% in 2019-21 from 34, 8% in 2015-16.

Chart: Ramandreep Kaur | The footprint

Delhi and Jharkhand also saw marginal increases in the number of men who reported consuming alcohol.

In India, women have always represented a tiny fraction of alcohol consumers. This is one of the reasons why any significant change in the trend of male alcohol consumption is more likely to impact national averages.

“Alcohol use is more common among Scheduled Tribe women (4%) than any other caste/tribe group. Alcohol consumption is more common among Christian men (36%) and men belonging to “other” religions (49%), men with less than five years of schooling (33%), tribal men listed (34%), and males between the ages of 35 and 49 (30%),” the NFHS-5 report states.

While acknowledging that the change in drinking patterns is significant, Balhara thinks it is necessary to take a deeper look the factors influencing this change.

“The NFHS does not explore the reasons for alcohol consumption and therefore does not comment on the same. Unfortunately, no other survey in India has used a consistent methodology so that we can even draw conclusions about The reasons for the change remain completely unexplored,” he told ThePrint.

(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)

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