Background: There is very little information on trends and determinants of alcohol consumption in the Portuguese population, which is usually characterized by high wine consumption.
Methods: A cross-sectional studies was conducted in 1995/1996 and 1998/1999 in a representative sample of 0.5% of the mainland Portuguese population (49,768 participants in 1995/1996 and 48,606 in 1998/1999), aged 15 years or more. Alcohol consumption was assessed by asking whether the participants had consumed alcohol in the previous week and how many drinks of wine/beer/whiskey/Port wine they consumed on average during that week.
Results: Prevalence of reported alcohol consumption decreased slightly between 1995/1996 and 1998/1999 (men: 65.7 vs. 64.0%, p < 0.001; women: 26.9 vs. 26.0%, p < 0.001). Among drinkers, the most frequently consumed alcoholic beverage was wine, followed by beer, whiskey, and Port wine. The amount of alcohol and wine consumed decreased in both sexes, whereas the amount of beer, whiskey, and Port wine consumed increased in men and the increase in beer consumption was borderline significant in women (p = 0.056). In both sexes, participants <50 years of age tended to consume less wine and more beer, whiskey, and Port wine than their older counterparts. Also, higher education was related to a higher frequency of alcohol consumption, whereas smoking was related to a lower consumption of wine [odds ratio (OR): 0.69 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.62-0.77) for men and OR: 0.76 (95% CI: 0.61-0.95) for women] and a higher consumption of beer [OR: 1.43 (95% CI: 1.33-1.54) for men and OR: 2.13 (95% CI: 1.84-2.42) for women and whiskey [OR: 1.28 (95% CI: 1.21-1.35) for men and OR: 2.61 (95% CI: 2.25-3.02) for women].
Conclusions: The pattern of alcohol consumption is changing in Portugal: the prevalence of drinkers is decreasing, and younger generations are shifting from wine to beer and spirits. Educational level seems to be a powerful mediator in the choice of alcoholic beverage.