A new survey by Danish organization Alcohol and Society exposes the oppressive alcohol norm in Denmark. The survey conducted with 2000 Danes revealed how only half of the participants thought saying no to alcohol was accepted by society.

A new survey conducted by the Danish organization Alcohol and Society has revealed the oppressive alcohol norm that is pervasive in Danish society.

The survey was conducted with 2000 Danish people between the ages of 30 to 65. It examined to what degree people feel saying no to alcohol was acceptable by society.

The survey found:

  • Only 50% believe it is acceptable to say no to alcohol because one does not feel like having any alcohol.
  • One in five who do not use alcohol report that it is hard to be a part of social gatherings where alcohol is present.
  • The only seemingly acceptable “excuse” for not consuming alcohol was driving a car. 83% said driving a car was an acceptable reason to not use alcohol.
Danish people think it’s not okay to say no to alcohol even if one does not feel like having any
A survey by Danish organization Alkohol och sammälle found that only 50% believe it is acceptable to say no to alcohol because one does not feel like having any alcohol.

Jakob Demant, lecturer at the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen and a researcher explains that one of the reasons for the pervasive alcohol norm in Danish society the symbolic meaning that society in Denmark has come to associate with alcohol.

Meanwhile, Morten Grønbæk, alcohol researcher and director of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, says that many people believe alcohol norms are hard to change but that it is possible.

The oppressive alcohol norm harms Danish people and communities

The new survey reveals that not only young people but also adults in Denmark suffer due to the oppressive alcohol norm. Previously, Movendi International reported how alcohol is increasingly harming youth in Denmark.

  • One report found that Danish young people between the ages of 15 to 20 years who engage in binge alcohol use (consuming over five units of alcohol in one occasion) are at greater risk of having an accident than those who do not.
  • A Megafon survey revealed, 58% Danes agreed that alcohol should not be served where both adults and underaged young people are celebrating together.

The oppressive alcohol norm in Denmark is driven by ultra-cheap, highly available alcohol products and predatory marketing practices of the alcohol industry that target everyone, including young people.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, in 2016 Denmark had a total per capita alcohol consumption of 10.4 liters – which is above the average in the WHO European region, the heaviest alcohol consuming region in the world. 

Among adults who consume alcohol, men use 19.5 liters per capita. Due to this high amount of population-level alcohol consumption and the lack of evidence-based alcohol policy solutions, people and communities in Denmark face this pervasive alcohol norm – and linked harms.

For example,

  1. 10.9% of Danish men experience alcohol use disorder and 5.6% are alcohol dependent. 
  2. More than 900 people die from cancer due to alcohol. 
  3. And more than 500 people die from liver cirrhosis due to alcohol, every year.
©WHO Global Alcohol Status Report 2018

Despite the heavy burden alcohol puts on Danish people, alcohol policy protections remain insufficient in Denmark.

  • The country does not have a written national alcohol policy
  • Denmark has no public health oriented, common sense alcohol availability limits, and
  • The country has a very low legal minimum age limit.

Currently, the Danish minimum age to consume alcohol varies depending on alcohol content. Danish young people above 16 years of age can buy alcohol products with an alcohol content of less than 16.5% from retail stores. For alcohol products with alcohol content over 16.5%, the minimum age is 18 years. The Danish government is planning on uniformly raising the minimum legal age to 18 years. While an improvement from the current minimum age, 18 is still one of the lowest minimum age requirements.

The pervasive alcohol norm in Danish society is one obstacle to improving alcohol policy protections in Denmark.

The oppressive alcohol norm in Western cultures

The problem with ingrained alcohol norms that harm people and communities has been deconstructed by Lucas Nilsson in his opinion piece published by Movendi International.

Analysis from Sweden shows that most people in Sweden think that alcohol is not necessary for a successful social gathering. In addition, there is growing demand for alcohol-free social spaces. Nevertheless, a large group of the Swedish population still consumes alcohol – even if their preferences are for going alcohol-free.

An innovative survey showed that about a million people consume alcohol even though they do not want to. Sweden has a population of ca. 10 million people. This clearly shows that the alcohol norm is pushing people into behavior that does not reflect their preferences. 

Fear of social exclusion is a major reason for why people consume alcohol even if they do not want to. The Swedish survey sheds light on the oppressive alcohol norm in Denmark, too. As in Danish society also in Swedish society alcohol is attached to certain symbolic meanings such as celebrations and socializing. People fear loosing access to these social occasions and connections. Therefore, they consume alcohol even if they do not want to.

There seems to exist a rather intoxicating vicious cycle of norms and notions about alcohol that fuels ideas and expectations resting on the false concept of what we perceive as other people’s preferences,” wrote Lucas Nilsson, as per Movendi International.

Lucas Nilsson, then Director, Swedish think-tank Nocturum, now President, IOGT-NTO

He highlights how these alcohol norms are actually valued by only a minority of people who are generally male, urban high-earners – in other words men of power. The alcohol norm is then fueled by the alcohol industry whose profit interest depends on more people using alcohol whether they want to or not. The alcohol industry promotes their products as a necessity for socializing and having a good life, further cementing people’s fears of social exclusion.

The alcohol industry is oppressing many people from enjoying social gatherings liberated from alcohol. Therefore, alcohol policy solutions are about freedom from an oppressive alcohol norm.

The goal of the alcohol policy of the future should hence not be seen as a way to hinder the freedom to consume alcohol, but to make possible the freedom to not consume alcohol,” wrote Lucas Nilsson, as per Movendi International.

Lucas Nilsson, then Director, Swedish think-tank Nocturum, now President, IOGT-NTO


Accent: “No thanks” to alcohol is not enough in Denmark

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Only 50 percent of Danes believe that society accepts a lack of desire as an acceptable excuse for not drinking