The German government has a unique opportunity to advance alcohol policy solutions as social norms around alcohol are being replaced with healthier norms and expectations. People in Germany, especially younger generations are going increasingly alcohol-free and at the same time a majority of Germans support evidence-based alcohol policy action.
The country is facing a heavy alcohol burden despite declines in alcohol use.

Germany is a high-consumption country concerning alcohol use and the country has pervasive alcohol norm. And this brings with it high levels of alcohol harm.

Amidst this bleak reality of a high burden of preventable alcohol deaths and diseases, German society sees a few, small positive trends:

  1. Alcohol use is declining as affordability falls,
  2. More young people stay alcohol-free longer, and
  3. Alcohol-free beer production grew by nearly 200%.
Growing popularity of beer liberated from alcohol
Between 2012 and 2022, the production of zero alcohol beer grew from 242 million liters to 474 million liters.

Germany produced 242 million litres of non-alcoholic beer in 2012. In 2022, the number rose to 474 million litres.

Beer is deemed to be alcohol-free in Germany is at a maximum of 0.5% alcohol fermentation. There are also other nuances to what on the surface at least seems to be an improvement concerning the German alcohol norm. 

Per Capita Consumption of Beer in Germany Remains High 

To date, Germany remains one of the highest consumers of alcohol in the European region. A German consumes about 91.6 litres of beer per year. Their consumption of other types of alcohols remain high as well. Wine consumption is at 20.7 litres per capita, sparkling wine at 3.2 litres, and spirits at 5.2 litres.

This data was gathered by the German Center for Addiction Issues. On averaged, this means that everyone above 15 years in Germany consumes about 10 litres of pure alcohol per year.

In 1990, this figure was still 13.4 litres. The reduction in alcohol use amounts to one or two bottles of beer and one or two glasses of wine per capita. Alcohol use remains at high levels still and so does alcohol harm in Germany. In fact, it is a public health crisis.

Reduction in affordability results in falling alcohol use 

In 2022, the German beer industry produced 7.6 billion liters of alcohlic beer. Beer sales fell by 12% in the past decade, as the Berliner Morgenpost reports.

According to the German Brewers Association – and alcohol industry lobby group, the reduced demand for alcoholic beer is due to high inflation. This means that alcohol is becoming less affordable in Germany and as affordability declines, alcohol use falls. The effectiveness of reducing affordability for preventing alcohol harm is well documented.

Falling beer sales in Germany over last decade
Data shows alcoholic beer sales have fallen by 12% in the past decade in Germany.

This means people spend less money in bars and restuarants, according to the German Brewers Association. The German alcohol industry is scared about losing profits, as the Berlinger Morgenpost reports.

But Dr. Jakob Manthey of the Hamburg Center for Interdisciplinary Addiction Research says:

The decrease in alcohol consumption is in itself a good sign.

However, the number of people whose death certificate lists alcohol as the cause of death has increased in recent years.”

Dr. Jakob Manthey, researcher, Hamburg Center for Interdisciplinary Addiction Research

More than 14,200 people died die to alcohol in Germany in 2020 alone. They die as a result of alcohol addiction, such as an alcohol overdose or alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. In addition, there would be tens of thousands more deaths from accidents, cancer and cardiovascular diseases caused by alcohol. For comparison: in 2022, “only” 2788 people died in traffic accidents.

In this context, falling alcohol affordability is positive for German society.

For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends raising prices as the single most cost-effective alcohol policy solution. An alcohol best buy policy is an intervention that is cheap, feasible and culturally acceptable to implement. The SAFER technical package describes the effectiveness of taxation as an alcohol policy best buys as follows:

Alcohol taxation and pricing policies are among the most effective and cost-effective alcohol control measures. An increase in excise taxes on alcoholic beverages is a proven measure to reduce harm due to alcohol and it provides governments revenue to offset the economic costs of alcohol harm.”

The SAFER technical package: five areas of intervention at national and subnational levels. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Inflation has had an effect in reducing alcohol consumption in Germany.

However, there is clearly more room for policy interventions to prevent alcohol harm. Alcohol taxes in Germany are among the lowest in Europe, for example. Wine is not even taxed at all. There is growing disillusionment among Germans about the real effects of alcohol consumption. The people themselves clearly desire alcohol policy improvements. 

Generational shift: young Germans go alcohol-free more

According to news reports, there is a generational difference in alcohol consumption levels. Younger generations consume less alcohol. Headlines about people, parties, environments, and trends that go alcohol-free are becoming common place in Germany. According to Dr. Jakob Manthey, the pandemic played a role in denormalizing alcohol ever more:  

Fewer parties, less discos – many young people have not even gotten into the embarrassment of starting to drink alcohol,” said Dr Manthey, as per Berlinger Morgenpost.

Dr. Jakob Manthey, researcher, Hamburg Center for Interdisciplinary Addiction Research

The high number of deaths due to alcohol was also related to supply gaps in hospitals during the COVID-19 period, says Dr Manthey, according to the Berliner Morgenpost. Liver diseases were treated too late and withdrawal therapies were not started. However, this was a problem for older people, for those over 40. The younger ones were the ones who consume less alcohol.

The generation who learnt to socialise during the pandemic years learnt to enjoy the experience without the taint of alcohol. The pandemic period also engendered increased health awareness among the youth. The adverse effects of alcohol are clearly included in the growing awareness. 

This trend among the new generations also means that the alcohol industry is learning to cater to their desires.

For example, trend conscious bars and restaurants cater to the preferences of younger generations by offering many more non-alcoholic beverages. Retailers are also responding with more interesting and appealing products liberated from alcohol than only water or soda that would alienate younger customers. Non-alcoholic versions of popular drinks are also increasingly populating supermarket shelves.

According to a YouGov survey conducted in April 2022, almost half of young German adults live alcohol free. This includes adults from ages 18 to 24.

Gen Z is the population demographic that follows Millennials and precedes generation Alpha. As defined by researchers and popular media, this includes individuals born in the mid to late 1990s and the 2010s. The YouGov survey included nine other European countries. German young adults had a higher rate of alcohol-free living compared to their peers.

Germans want better alcohol policy

The alcohol norm is shifting.

Different surveys are showing that Germans are in favour of alcohol policy improvements to denormalize alcohol and better protect communities against alcohol harm.

One other YouGov poll indicated that 67% of respondents expressed their support for labels detailing the health risks of alcohol use. As little as 22% of all respondents objected to warning labelling on alcohol products.

Earlier this year, Movendi International reported on a survey that showed that 50% of Germans are in favour of increased taxes on alcohol. The survey was commissioned by the Federal Drug Commissioner Burkhard Blienert. It also showed that a majority of Germans supported a ban on alcohol advertising. The survey findings from 1,400 respondents can be summarised as follows:

  • 59% support a complete advertising ban for beer, wine and schnapps.
  • Germans also support labeling requirements similar to those for tobacco. 76% were in favor of health hazards warning labels on alcohol advertising.
  • 50% of respondents are in favor of higher alcohol taxes.

Unique opportunity for change

Movendi International systematically reports on the alcohol harm and policy situation in Germany. The reportage clearly shows how people and communities in Germany are burdened with rampant alcohol harm.

The products and practices of alcohol companies have a significant social and economic cost to Germany:

  • One in ten crimes is committed after alcohol consumption.
  • Alcohol is also a contributing factor in about 5% of all motor vehicle crashes in Germany.

The harm caused by the practices and products of the alcohol industry can be reversed through implementation of evidence-based, cost-effective and high-impact alcohol policy solutions – those that most German people support.

The German government has already shown its recognition of the need for a paradigm shift in alcohol policy. This understanding is also borne out by social support for better alcohol policies to safeguard the people. As deeply ingrained alcohol norms in Germany are undergoing a transformation, the German government has a unique opportunity to invest in proven alcohol policy solutions to promote health and social progress.

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