Introduction: Alcohol use is a global public health problem, including as a risk factor for HIV infection, but few data are available on the epidemiology of alcohol use and alcohol use disorders (AUD) among young people in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey among 4 groups of young people aged 15-24 years old (secondary school students, college/university students, employees of local industries and casual labourers) in two regions (Kilimanjaro and Mwanza) of northern Tanzania. Using a multistage stratified random sampling strategy, we collected information on demographics, alcohol use, and behavioural factors. We screened severity of alcohol use using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) and estimated the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption using the timeline-follow-back-calendar (TLFB) method.
Results: A total of 1954 young people were surveyed. The prevalence of reported alcohol use was higher among males (47-70% ever users and 20-45% current users) than females (24-54% ever users and 12-47% current users). Prevalence of use was substantially higher in Kilimanjaro than Mwanza region. In both regions, participants reported high exposure to alcohol advertisements, and wide alcohol availability. College students reported the highest prevalence of current alcohol use (45% among males; 26% among females) and of heavy episodic drinking (71% among males; 27% among females) followed by casual labourers. Males were more likely to have AUD (an AUDIT score ≥8) than females, with 11-28% of males screening positive for AUD. Alcohol use was associated with male gender, being in a relationship, greater disposable income, non-Muslim religion and a higher number of sexual partners.
Conclusions: Alcohol use is a significant problem among young people in northern Tanzania. There is an urgent need to develop, pilot and deliver interventions to help young people delay initiation and reduce levels of harmful drinking, particularly among college students and casual labourers.