Why Do Scandinavians Drink So Much Alcohol?

Scandinavians may not have alcohol daily, but they compensate for it during the weekends and at parties. They may even seem like they drink too much, but why?

Scandinavians drink so much alcohol because of socialization and peer culture.

The drinking culture is so ingrained in the region that it’s a faux pas to decline a drink for no solid reason, such as pregnancy.

Historically, alcohol is also a way to pay for services and warm up in the chilly climate. 

This article explores why Scandinavians drink so much, including present and historical explanations. It’ll also outline which of them are the heaviest drinkers. 

Also, see Why Do Scandinavians Drink So Much Coffee? to learn more.

The Motivations Behind Nordic Heavy Drinking Culture

Alcohol is intertwined with the culture of many European countries. For instance, the French love their daily alcohol, even having wine with breakfast.

Meanwhile, the Russians have a reputation that can be summed up with the word “vodka.” 

The Scandinavian region is no exception, as this area in Northern Europe is usually comprised of the following countries: [1]

  • Norway
  • Sweden 
  • Denmark 

Many studies exploring drinking culture in Scandinavia also consider Finland. Still, they’re not a part of the region, as outlined in this article: Are Finns Slavic or Scandinavian? [2]

Thus, only the drinking culture of the three countries mentioned above is considered in this article. 

The drinking culture in the Scandinavian region consists of heavy drinking during the weekends and on special occasions.

The people are generally sober during weekdays. However, although quite sporadic, the intensity of their drinking during the days they do makes it concerning. 

To explain why Scandinavians are heavy drinkers, the first point will discuss alcohol’s importance for socialization. 


For Scandinavians, alcohol is a way to socialize. It gets people together by helping them loosen up and interact positively at parties and other occasions. [3]

Thus, drinking is practically a requirement for those who want to have fun in the region. 

It’s also a faux pas for a person to decline a drink in Scandinavia when they are not pregnant or the designated driver for the night. [4]

Others may start questioning why they are out and not drinking, then eventually, they will be pressured to enjoy the night the same way everyone else does, which is by drinking heavily. 

In Scandinavia, it’s also cultural for certain foods to be consumed with alcohol. 

For instance, every crayfish claw is paired with a glass of schnapps, so the more crayfish one eats at a party, the more drunk one gets. [5]

Interestingly, it’s also concerning if individuals drink alone, as they regard it as a sign of a drinking problem or alcoholism. [6]

Peer Pressure 

For many Scandinavians, drinking is not just a way to socialize or pass the time – it’s a goal. On occasions that they consume alcohol, they do not do so moderately. 

They drink to get drunk, not just to down one shot. It’s also not just a personal goal, and everyone is encouraged and eventually pressured to join the drinking spree.

Sober people are not welcomed, as some feel they cannot be trusted. 

For the Scandinavian youth, drinking is a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. [7]

That is, they emulate adult drinking habits to be accepted into society, and often, they start drinking when they take on adult roles and responsibilities. 

Recently, though, it appears that the young are no longer as susceptible to alcohol and pressure as they used to be.

Statistically, it has been observed that the trend for alcohol consumption among the youth has been decreasing. [8]

This decline has been attributed to many reasons, such as:

  • Parental awareness of drinking spots
  • Parental restrictions 
  • Stricter age checks and policies 
  • Increasing anti-alcohol culture 

However, such attributions are non-conclusive. 

Parental Attitude

Another reason the Scandinavian youth drink is because of parental attitude, as young adults with strict parents might rebel by sneaking out and drinking. 

Some also drink when they are being neglected. Meanwhile, the eldest children go out and get drunk to take a break from their parents and responsibilities.

Thus, parents are often unaware of their children’s drinking origins and habits. 

Chilly Climate 

Scandinavia is constantly cold, even during summer. Indeed, the warmest the region can get is 23°C (73°F), a temperature reached by Sweden during July. [9]

During the winter, the area experiences negative temperatures and, possibly, even colder windchills. 

To cope with the frigid climate, people turn to alcohol. Alcohol warms people by opening up blood vessels, also known as vasodilation, which allows more blood to rush in than usual.

As a result, the skin blushes, and the person feels warmer, although their core temperature is actually dropping. [10]

Payment for Service 

Historically, companies used booze to pay Scandinavians for certain services because it’s cheaper. And since wages were so low, while alcohol was so cheap, even those paid with money tended to buy booze. 

Such a context invariably encouraged drinking until it became a cultural norm. Today, however, alcohol is no longer a currency but remains intimate with society. 

Which Scandinavian Country Drinks the Most Alcohol?

Although Scandinavians are all perceived as heavy drinkers, one country outdrinks the others. 

From 1990 to 2019, Denmark consumed more alcohol annually than Norway or Sweden. [11]. Danes drank 9.5 liters (2.5 gallons) of alcohol per year in 2019, which is lower than their peak of 13.1 liters (3.46 gallons) in 2013. 

However, despite such a decrease and a lack of data from 2014 to 2015, the Danes’ latest annual consumption of 9.5 liters (2.5 gallons) is much more than Sweden’s 7.1 liters (1.88 gallons) and Norway’s 6.1 liters (1.61 gallons).

Besides drinking culture, a reason why the Danes outrank others might be because Denmark is more lenient. People as young as 16 can buy alcohol, which is the lowest age restriction in Europe. 

Their prices are also much lower. To deter heavy drinking, Scandinavian and Nordic countries have imposed exorbitant prices and government-controlled monopolies, which are:

  • Vinmonopolet (Norway)
  • Systembolaget (Sweden) 

Besides monopolies, other governments also deter drinking by imposing a low blood alcohol concentration allowed for drivers.

For instance, the legal limit in Scandinavian countries is 0.05%. For comparison, the figure is 0.08% in the United States. [12]

These measures have somewhat hampered extreme habits, but citizens choose to splurge occasionally or cross borders. 

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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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