Do Scandinavians Drink a Lot?

The Nordic countries are known for their drinking culture. The usual picture of Scandinavian drinking brings to mind loud, raucous parties ending with several empty alcohol bottles.

But do Scandinavians drink that much, or is it a false stereotype? 

Scandinavians don’t usually drink every day. But when they do, it’s with the aim of getting completely drunk.

Scandinavian countries have a long history with alcohol, and alcohol use is widespread, especially amongst its older population. 

This article will discuss the history and culture of drinking in Scandinavian countries, the reasons for their drinking habits, and other facts. 

Also, see Do Scandinavians Have Green Eyes? to learn more.

Which Scandinavian Country Drinks the Most?

The Scandinavian countries with a long history of alcohol use are Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. But which of these has the highest alcohol consumption?

Of the four countries mentioned above, Denmark has the highest alcohol consumption. [1] In 2019, the average per capita consumption of alcohol in Denmark was 9.5 liters (2.5 gal).

In comparison, Sweden and Norway had per capita alcohol consumption rates of 7.1 and 6.1 liters (1.88 and 1.58 gal), respectively. Finland has alcohol consumption rates just slightly below Denmark.

Regulation is one of the biggest reasons for the big difference between Denmark’s alcohol consumption and the others.

All three other countries have extremely strict regulations regarding the production and sale of alcohol.

Alcohol Regulations in Scandinavian Countries

In most Nordic countries, drinking involves an end goal of getting completely drunk.

In many other places, drinking culture is more about having a small glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day.

However, in Scandinavian countries, it’s about infrequent social gatherings and getting black-out drunk.

In the 19th century, Swedish mine and forest workers would get part of their wages paid for alcohol.

The increased drinking had led to multiple alcohol-related problems like health challenges and deaths.

Because of their long history with alcohol, most Scandinavian countries began regulating the production and sale of alcohol.

Alcohol-related deaths and diseases were rising in the early 1900s, which is why the regulations began.

In Norway, the government implemented a total ban on alcohol – much like their American counterparts did during the Prohibition Era.

The ban worked just as well as the American attempt, which is to say, not at all. The only result of the ban was an increase in illegal brewing (moonshine). [2]

In Sweden, the government instituted the Bratt System, a method of allocating alcohol rations to people. [3] The system included a motbok – a record of all alcohol consumption maintained by each person.

The motbok had to be presented whenever a citizen bought alcohol so that the sellers could see that they weren’t going over their allocated share.

The motbok was given to citizens who were deemed “responsible” enough to be allowed alcohol. This often resulted in women and citizens from lower economic classes being denied alcohol.

The motbok also allocated different ‘rations’ of alcohol to different people. Those who were deemed more responsible were allowed a larger share.

However, the Bratt System was effective in achieving its goal: Alcohol sales reduced drastically during this time.

Current Alcohol Regulations in Scandinavia

Currently, Norway, Sweden, and Finland have strict regulations on alcohol production and sales.

Regular manufacturers are only allowed to make and sell drinks with lower amounts of alcohol (mainly beers and some wines).

For drinks with higher alcohol content, the governments created organizations that are solely responsible for producing and selling these drinks.

Other manufacturers or vendors cannot sell drinks with higher alcohol content.

The Swedish government-owned agency responsible for selling alcohol is Systembolaget. [4]

Systembolaget is responsible for producing all alcoholic drinks with over 3.5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume).

The Norwegian agency is called Vinmonopolet. [5] It is the only organization that can sell alcoholic drinks with over 4.5% ABV.

The government-owned agency in Finland is Alko Inc. [6]. They sell all alcoholic drinks with over 5.5% ABV in Finland.

In Denmark, however, alcohol regulations remain lax. The government doesn’t oversee the production and distribution of alcohol.

Thus, any approved manufacturer or supplier can sell alcohol in Denmark. It’s speculated that this might be one of the reasons for Denmark’s higher per capita alcohol consumption.

Another speculated reason is Denmark’s lower age limit for alcohol consumption.

What Is the Legal Drinking Age in Scandinavia?

The legal drinking age in most Scandinavian countries is 18 for drinks with less alcohol. For drinks with higher alcohol content, the legal age is 20.

The exception is Denmark, where the legal drinking age for milder drinks is 16, and for hard liquor is 18.

Here is a quick look at the legal drinking ages in four Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

Lower Alcohol Drinks1818*1816
Higher Alcohol Drinks20202018
*Note: Sweden’s legal age at bars and restaurants is 18. To purchase alcohol from a store, the minimum age is 20.


In Norway, the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol is 18. However, this only applies to beers and wines. The minimum age to purchase drinks with higher alcohol content, like spirits, is 20.

Alcohol can be purchased at Vinmonopolet.


The legal age to drink at bars and restaurants in Sweden is 18. However, some bars may only allow those over 20 or even 25 to enter.

To purchase alcohol, one has to be at least 20 years old. Alcohol can be purchased at local Systembolaget stores.


In Finland, anyone at least 18 years old can buy alcohol. However, for alcoholic drinks with more than 22% alcohol, the legal age is 20. Alcohol can be bought at local Alko Inc. stores.


Unlike the other three countries, the legal drinking age in Denmark is lower. The legal age to purchase and consume alcohol in Denmark is 16 for drinks with less than 16.5% alcohol. For drinks with more alcohol than that, the legal age is 18. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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