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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Alcohol abstinence and drinking among African women: data from the World Health Surveys

Priscilla Martinez1*, Jo Røislien12, Nirmala Naidoo3 and Thomas Clausen1

Author Affiliations

1 Norwegian Center for Addiction Research, University of Oslo, Kirkeveien 166, 0450 Oslo, Norway

2 Department of Biostatistics, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1122 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway

3 Department of Health Statistics and Informatics, World Health Organization, Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:160  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-160

Published: 10 March 2011



Alcohol use is increasing among women in Africa, and comparable information about women's current alcohol use is needed to inform national and international health policies relevant to the entire population. This study aimed to provide a comparative description of alcohol use among women across 20 African countries.


Data were collected as part of the WHO World Health Survey using standardized questionnaires. In total, 40,739 adult women were included in the present study. Alcohol measures included lifetime abstinence, current use (≥1 drink in previous week), heavy drinking (15+ drinks in the previous week) and risky single-occasion drinking (5+ drinks on at least one day in the previous week). Country-specific descriptives of alcohol use were calculated, and K-means clustering was performed to identify countries with similar characteristics. Multiple logistic regression models were fitted for each country to identify factors associated with drinking status.


A total of 33,841 (81%) African women reported lifetime abstinence. Current use ranged from 1% in Malawi to 30% in Burkina Faso. Among current drinkers, heavy drinking varied between 4% in Ghana to 41% in Chad, and risky single-occasion drinking ranged from <1% in Mauritius to 58% in Chad. Increasing age was associated with increased odds of being a current drinker in about half of the countries.


A variety of drinking patterns are present among African women with lifetime abstention the most common. Countries with hazardous consumption patterns require serious attention to mitigate alcohol-related harm. Some similarities in factors related to alcohol use can be identified between different African countries, although these are limited and highlight the contextual diversity of female drinking in Africa.