Expert View

Average alcohol consumption per adult declined in 2020 and 2021

Anthony Foley, Emeritus Associate Professor of Economics at Dublin City University Business School, outlines the evidence.

As a consequence of on-licensed premises having been closed for much of the period 2020- 2021, on-licensed consumption declined greatly while off-licence purchases and home consumption increased significantly. However, the net effect has been a decline in average alcohol consumption in each of 2020 and 2021.

The data used in this article are taken from the CSO Population and Migration Estimates for April 2021 (published in August 2021) and the Revenue Commissioners’ alcohol clearances data.

The performance reflects two different features of the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Total and average alcohol consumption per adult 2019, 2020 and 2021

Total alcohol consumption as measured by Revenue clearances decreased by 4.7% in 2021 compared with 2020. This follows a decrease of 5.1% in 2020 compared with 2019.

The 2021 total volume was 9.6% lower than in 2019 while the number of adults (as defined by 15 years-and-over) increased by 1.1% in 2021. This resulted in a decrease of 5.7% in 2021 compared with 2020 in average alcohol consumption per adult. It was 9.557 Litres Per Adult in 2021 compared with 10.139 LPA in 2020.

In figures rounded to one decimal place the average per adult consumption is 10.1 LPA in 2020 compared to 9.6 LPA in 2021. This gives a decrease of 5.0% for 2021.

Average consumption decreased from 10.856 LPA to 9.557 LPA, a decrease of 12.0%.

The relevant data are presented in the Table.

 Average per adult alcohol consumption 2019, 2020 and 2021

2019 2020 % change 2019/2020   2021 % change 2020/2021
Litres of pure alcohol (lpa), Total consumption 42,476,575 40,291,740 -5.1 38,381,422 -4.7
Adult Population (aged 15 and over), millions 3.9126 3.973.8 1.6 4.0159 1.1
Litres of pure alcohol per adult (LPA) 10.856

(rounded to  10.9)


(rounded to 10.1)


(-7.3 based on rounded levels)


(rounded to 9.6)


(-5.0 based on rounded figures)

Beer (LPA) 18,931,618 15,654,741 -17.3 15,462,700 -1.2
Cider (LPA) 3,159,103 2,799,891 -11.4 2,680,169 -4.3
Spirits (LPA) 8,821,113 8,883,306 0.7 8,991,008 1.2
Wine (LPA) 11,564,741 12,953,802 12.0 11,247,545 -13.2
Sources:  CSO Population and Migration Estimates August 2021.
Revenue Commissioners, Alcohol Clearances data, 2019, 2020 and 2021 Website, 2022.

The aggregate alcohol clearances and the “adult” populations are presented. These two are combined to provide the average per adult consumption.

By long-term comparison, average alcohol consumption was 10.9 LPA in 1990 and this peaked at 14.44 LPA in 2001. Since 2001 the average per adult alcohol consumption has declined by 33.8% or one-third.

Wine volume decreased by 13.2% between 2020 and 2021 following a big increase in 2020. Total spirits consumption volume increased by 1.2% between 2020 and 2021. Beer volume decreased by 1.2% in 2021 following a very large 17.3% decrease in 2020. Cider volume decreased by 4.3% in 2021 following an 11% plus decrease in 2020.

Wine in 2021 accounted for 29.3% of total alcohol consumption compared to 32.2% in 2020 and 27.2% in 2019. The wine share was 13.2% in 2000.

Beer was 56.6% of total alcohol consumption in 2000 and is now 40.3%.

The impacts on the four different beverages groups between 2019 and 2021 were: beer down 18.3%, spirits up 1.9%, wine down 2.7% and cider down 15.2%.

Recent trends in average alcohol consumption

Over the past 10 years average per adult alcohol consumption has decreased from 11.566 LPA in 2012 to 9.557 LPA in 2021, a decline of 17.4%.

The decline was not continuous over the period. There was a substantial decline in 2013, an increase in 2014, a decline in 2015, an increase in 2016, a small decrease in 2017, a small increase in 2018, a decline in 2019 and declines in 2020 and 2021.

As already noted, average consumption in 2021 is 33.8% lower than the peak of 2001. Over the very long-term period since 1990 the 2021 average consumption level is the lowest in 51 years and below 10 LPA for the first time in that period.


Average per adult alcohol consumption decreased from 10.139 LPA to 9.557 LPA in 2021 compared with 2020.

When rounded to one place of decimals the change was from 10.1 LPA to 9.6 LPA, or a decrease of 5.0%. This is the first time in decades that average consumption is below 10 LPA. Total consumption decreased by 4.7 % in 2021 and there was an increase in the adult population of 1.1%.

Since its peak in 2001 the average per adult alcohol consumption has declined by 33.8%.

Compared with the long term situation the 2021 average consumption of alcohol is the lowest in the 31 years since 1990.

The main feature of the 2021 performance is the decline in average consumption of alcohol which is now below 10 LPA.

Of course, there will be different reactions to the recent and ongoing decline in alcohol consumption.

From an industry perspective it’s undesirable to see demand for one’s product in decline.

From the health policy perspective, the significant decline will be welcomed as the consumption level moves belatedly towards the 2020 Government target of 9.1 LPA.

The decline over the Covid period is substantial, but it remains to be seen if it is part of the long-term decline and if part of it is due to temporary Covid factors which will be reversed as society resumes normal behaviour.

The main feature of the 2021 performance is the decline in average consumption of alcohol which is now below 10 LPA.

The main feature of the 2021 performance is the decline in average consumption of alcohol which is now below 10 LPA.










The measurement approach follows standard international practice.

The aggregate alcohol contents of the different types of beverages are based on 5% Alcohol By Volume for cider, 12.5% alcohol content for wine and the actual alcohol estimates provided in the clearances data by Revenue for spirits and beer.

Some international and national estimates use lower alcohol contents for wine and cider. The international convention of defining the adult population as 15 years-and-over is used although this is, of course, an inaccurate measure of the adult population.

The population data refer to April of each year.

Consumption is equated with clearances as is normally done in estimates such as these although clearances are not an exact measure of consumption due to factors such as unrecorded out-of-State sourcing, stock changes and the effects of outward and inward tourism.

Irish people when abroad consume alcohol which is not recorded as Irish consumption and visitors consume alcohol which is recorded as consumption by Irish people but is not. The tourism impact is of particular significance in 2020 and 2021 due to the much lower levels of inward and outward tourism.

Sign Up for Drinks Industry Ireland

Get a free weekly update on Drinks Industry trade news, direct to your inbox. Sign up now, it's free