People in countries that value independence and autonomy tend to drink more than those in nations that place more importance in hierarchy and being part of a collective.

The new findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, could have important implications for international public health organisations trying to tackle problems associated with alcohol consumption.

Previous research into alcohol use has tended to look at the question of why people drink excessively at an individual level. However, the new study is the first to try to identify broader societal and cultural predictors of alcohol consumption.

Researchers from Bath University and the University of Porto examined data regarding alcohol consumption and cultural values for 74 countries. They looked specifically at whether a country's average level of alcohol consumption could be associated with cultural values such as autonomy, hierarchy, harmony and collectivism.

They found that societies where more importance is placed on autonomy and independence – like many Western countries – tend to have higher alcohol consumption rates, while the opposite is true for those with more collectivist values.

"Our results suggest that bodies like World Health Organisation should prioritise tackling alcohol consumption in countries that are more autonomous and less traditional, and future research should be directed at further understanding the relationship between cultural values and alcohol," said Richard Inman of the University of Lusíada in Porto.

Paul Hanel, co-author of the study, added: "Researchers could create similar profiles and models to help understand the cultural underpinnings for other risky behaviours such as smoking and drug taking, or health issues such as obesity."

Excessive alcohol consumption is a huge problem for public health authorities across the globe. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 3.3 million deaths were caused by alcohol in 2012 - 6% of all deaths in that year.

Alcohol abuse can lead to high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis, chronic pancreatitis and liver cancer. It also places a huge social and economic burden on countries.