where do people drink the most (or the least) alcohol in France?

Dry January ​(“January sec” in English) becomes French January challenge​. This operation aims to encourage participants not to drink a drop of alcohol during the month of January. After a holiday binge and at the time of New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good time to question your alcohol consumption and habits, and experience the benefits of taking a break.

In mid-January, the participants are already halfway through, and there is still time for those who are late to start at the end of the month. There are no statistics on participation in the January Challenge yet, but the Addictions France association expects it 60% of the population is aware of it and about 10% say they want to take it​.

This campaign, however, received only moderate support from the authorities, and there was no public campaigning, particularly due to the mobilization and lobbying of wine and alcohol producers…

Declining consumption since 1960

Without being able to measure these temporary restrictions precisely for now, alcohol consumption in France is much less well known. The trend in recent years has been a steady decline in the volume of alcohol consumed per year and per capita.

In 1960, people in France drank around 200 liters of alcohol per year and per person. Consumption continues to fall until in 2018 around 80 liters per year per person.

This fall was mainly due to the abandonment of grapes for daily consumption. A small glass of red with food represented 115 liters of wine per year and per person in 1960, compared to 17.2 liters in 2018.

Here’s the evolution of consumption since the 1960s, broken down by type of alcohol:

The graph above also requires another observation. Fine wine has acquired volumes at the expense of wine for everyday consumption (which does not benefit from the original designation): we drink less, but better. Champagne is also benefiting from this trend.

Beer has experienced a renaissance since 2010, driven by the emergence of local breweries and specialty beers.

Also read: “The most complicated thing is the social pressure”: they recount their month without alcohol

The wine regions consume the most

Where do we drink the most in France? Depends. Legend has it that it is in Brittany, and in the North. Actually, it depends on what you are considering.

If we focus on daily alcohol consumption, a regional analysis published in 2020 by Public Health France contradicts the cliches. In the Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie wine regions daily alcohol consumption is most common among adults aged 18 to 75 years. Here we are talking about drinking alcohol every day, without considering its volume. Hauts-de-France is the third region where people drink the most:

Regional variations are more apparent in other indicators, according to Public Health France. Thus, 32.5% of children aged 18-30 years consume alcohol at least once a week. This proportion drops to 23.2% in Hauts-de-France, but increases to 43.5% in Brittany and 40.7% in Pays de la Loire.

Brittany, whose daily consumption fell, also stood out on the API (occasionally high monthly alcohol intake). This API represents drinking 6 (or more) alcoholic drinks on one occasion at least once a month. This represents 20.5% in Brittany compared to the national average of 16.2%.

Habit change

Santé publique France notes that in France, there is lower regular consumption and a significant increase in occasional consumption​, and underscores the emergence of the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon daily consumption models but is significant in comparison to the Latin daily consumption models.

According to INSEE, in 2018, households spent 35 billion euros on alcohol consumption at home. The Covid crisis, with restrictions and curfews, may have changed the situation. A Nielsen study from April 2021 noted a 5% increase in alcohol sales in supermarkets, but a decrease in consumption of strong alcohol overall.

Nonetheless, the bar has risen in recent years. After several years of decline, the number of drinking establishments has increased since 2013.

More bars on Île-de-France

According to data from the Siren database, which lists companies and their areas of activity, there were less than 35,000 drinking establishments in France in 2013. Since then, their number has started to increase again, and the database was updated in 1uh January 2023 correctly listed 43,182 companies. Here it is on this map (you can zoom in with your finger):

Here too, legend has it that Brittany and Hauts-de-France are the areas with the most territory. This is actually not true. If we relate the number of drinking establishments to the number of residents, the top rank goes to the sparsely populated departments (Corrèze, Cantal, Lozère…)…

If we consider the numbers, or density per square kilometer, Paris leads the way.
Here is the density of drinking establishments by department:

In Île-de-France, and particularly in Paris, the number of cafes per km² is the highest. The capital has almost 22 cafes per km².

The Côte d’Azur, North and Brittany also have high densities, the legend isn’t completely inaccurate. If we go into more detail, the famous rue Saint-Michel in Rennes has the highest density with eight buildings currently over 110 meters…

Here’s the density of drinking establishments for a city with a population of over 10,000:

It is shown that the highest densities are found in the Paris region, but also in medium-sized cities.

The January Challenge is still running until the 31st, but nothing is stopping you from hitting the bar for a non-alcoholic drink.

As a reminder, 25% of French will exceed alcohol consumption benchmarks: a maximum of 2 drinks per day and 10 drinks per week, with at least two alcohol-free days a week.

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