For those of us who celebrate, the holidays are right around the corner, which means endless Christmas and New Year parties with an even more endless flow of alcohol. While these parties can mean lots of fun, for others they mean a heightened risk of sexual assault. These cases are not isolated incidents. One tenth of the Norwegian workforce have either been sexually assaulted themselves or know someone who has been subject to such inappropriate behavior at their company’s Christmas party (Bjørnson Hagen, 2022). To blame is often the large flow of alcohol that are served and consumed at the festivities. Alcohol is not only deeply ingrained in Norwegian and other Nordic countries’ Christmas traditions, but it is said to be generally interwoven with their cultures for centuries. 

The dangers of the widespread heavy drinking patterns across populations in the North have been used to justify strict regulations on alcohol production, selling, and consumption that Norway and its fellow Nordic countries are well known for today. The question is: Are these stringent rules justified and effective in what they are trying to achieve? The most recent SHoT study (Studentenes Helse- og Trivselsundersøkelse) has, for example, shown that more than half of the male university students and 4 in 10 female students exhibit risky drinking patterns (Heradstveit et al., 2022) and, as such render the regulatory approach to appear ineffective. So let’s take a look at the Norwegian approach to regulating alcohol, its history, and its pros and cons to see whether it actually works and prevents societal harm or if it is unnecessarily harsh.   


A shot of history 

The strict regulations on alcohol consumption date back to heavy alcohol use in the 19th century, reaching its peak in the 1830s with 13 liters of alcohol per person (Hauge, 1996). The general public saw it necessary to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and started to call for stricter regulations (WHO, 2023; Karlsson & Österberg, 2003).  

In 1919, the Alcohol Prohibition Act was introduced, which prohibited the consumption and production of the majority of spirits. However, trade quarrels with wine-exporting countries, like France and Spain, caused its demise 8 years later (Johansen, 2013).  

The Alcohol Act that is in force today was implemented in 1990s (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). Its main objective remains to be the same as the initial approach to alcohol regulation: to reduce health and societal harm caused by alcohol. The new act tries to reconcile this goal while also allowing citizens to choose whether they want to consume liquor (Götestam & Röstum, 1983).  


Today’s offer: the legal cocktail 

It is widely held that the way regulating alcohol is approached has significant impact upon how much harm is caused by liquor (Götestam & Röstum, 1983). Therefore, the government opted for a rather strict approach to prevent societal and health related harms such as accidents caused by drunk driving, as well as alcoholism, and over 200 other diseases and conditions like cancer (WHO, 2023).  

To reduce consumption, only alcoholic beverages below a 4.7% alcohol concentration can be sold in normal stores. Beverages above that percentage can only be bought at Vinmonopolet, a store owned by the state. Through these shops and through the state monopoly on alcohol, the government can control the access to purchasing alcohol, its price, as well as which kind of alcohol is sold (WHO, 2023). The beverages are also highly taxed to further disincentivize alcohol consumption (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). A prohibition of advertising alcohol also falls under the tight alcohol regulation in Norway (Götestam & Röstum, 1983). In addition, a license is needed to sell alcohol. Its issuance is decided by the municipalities (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). 

There are not only restrictions to where alcohol can be bought, but also for when. Low-percentage alcohol can only be sold between 08:00-20:00 on weekdays, and 08:00-18:00 on Saturdays and the day before public holidays. Vinmonopolet is only open between 10:00-18:00 during the week and from 10:00-16:00 on Saturdays and the day prior to national holidays. No alcohol of any kind can be purchased on Sundays in either grocery stores or at Vinmonopolet (Act on the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages, Etc. (Alcohol Act), 1990).  

As most other countries, Norway also has a legal drinking age. Buying alcohol is legal from the age of 18 onwards in regard to alcohol with a lower alcohol percentage than 22%. In order to purchase alcohol with a higher alcohol percentage one needs to be older than 20 (Act on the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages, Etc. (Alcohol Act), 1990). 

Drinking out in public, such as in public squares or in parks is also prohibited by law, though it is rarely enforced (Act on the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages, Etc. (Alcohol Act), 1990).  

Norway has one of the strictest blood alcohol limits in regard to driving to prevent accidents and reduce possible harm. In order for driving under the influence to be considered and punishable, the blood alcohol threshold is set at 0.02% (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003).  

Lastly, education plays a crucial role in showing the harms and effects of unsafe alcohol consumption. Educational programs about these issues are implemented in Norwegian public schools to enlighten young people on the effects of alcohol and discourage them from engaging in unsafe and risky consumption patterns (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). It is important to note, that young people are among the heaviest drinkers, hence the need for early interventions (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003).  

Despite all of these measures, highly intoxicated people are not a rare sight at parties or concerts, with many Norwegians stocking up on alcohol at airport and ferry duty-free shops, and participating in traditions such as russefeiring or julebord that are known for their large flow of alcohol. Therefore, the question needs to be asked: Are these stringent regulations actually effective? Let us look at the pros and cons. 


To prohibit or not to prohibit 

To start of with a strong pro argument, it should be noted that Norway has one of the lowest alcohol consumption rates among adults in Europe, with an average of 7.4 liters per person (OECD, n.d.). By comparison, Latvia’s rates are among the highest in Europe with adults consuming almost double the amount of alcohol at 12.1 liters per person (OECD, n.d.). Generally, it can be said that countries with rather strict approaches, such as Sweden and Iceland, for example, have a lower alcohol consumption than countries with looser regulations, like Latvia or Germany (OECD, n.d.). Thus, the statistics seem to suggest that a stricter approach, such as Norway’s, to regulating alcohol is indeed effective in reducing alcohol consumption among adults.  

Yet, 5-8% of Norwegian citizens are reported to be alcoholics or consume alcohol in a harmful way (Skjelbred & Thoresen Lønnes, 2023). Moreover, as mentioned above, in the student population, these numbers are even higher (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). In Germany, the number of alcoholics and individuals consuming alcohol in a harmful manner is around 11% (Federal Ministry of Health, 2023). While the share of alcoholics is indeed bigger in Germany than it is in Norway, the difference is not that great. Nevertheless, is it not worth it to prevent even just a single person more from getting cancer or to save a single individual from a fatal drunk driving accident?  

Through the state monopoly, the government is able to link the production and sale of alcohol with health services, rather than leaving it to corporations that prioritize generating high profits without regard for the societal and health harms caused by their products (Karlsson & Österberg, 2003). However, this of course reduces the necessity for companies to come up with innovative products since there is no pressure to have an economic edge over the other competitors. Furthermore, small businesses might struggle under the limited market access which could potentially lead to a strengthened economy in particular areas and generate new jobs.  

We know that alcohol is causing both societal harm and health related harm. Is it then not fitting that selling alcohol is monopolized by the state to maintain control about how much alcohol is on the market, and that the revenue from selling alcohol is put back into healthcare and education to provide better social services and tackle the societal and health issues that are caused by alcohol consumption (WHO, 2023)?  

The revenue can then be used to offer programs and services focused on tackling the root causes of harmful alcohol consumption and alcoholism, such as mental health issues. Furthermore, the high taxation of alcohol is more likely to be supported by the public if the generated income is used to fund projects with the intention of facilitating the welfare of all citizens. 

However, the high taxes on alcohol can also lead to unwanted side effects such as a flourishing black market on which smuggled or home-produced alcohol is sold. These kinds of alcohol may cause health implications and can cause harm to consumers beyond the usual side effects of alcohol. Additionally, high taxation will mostly affect individuals with lower incomes so that they will be the ones who are more likely to produce alcohol themselves or buy it on the black market, thereby endangering themselves to potential harm. Through the state monopoly the high quality of products can be ensured which is crucial, but if the high prices and the controlled availability is leading to a flourishing black market with low quality products, those efforts might be ultimately jeopardized.  

Lastly, some may argue that the regulations go a little too far and limit the citizens’ freedom of choice. These critics argue that it is not the government’s responsibility to coddle its citizens and tell them what to or what to not consume. Instead, it should be left to the people to decide whether and how much alcohol they want to drink. 


My final shot 

To sum up, Norway has traditionally opted for strict alcohol regulations and even prohibited most beverages during the early 1910s and 1920s. According to the statistics, Norway does indeed manage to discourage drinking, as is reflected in one of the lowest alcohol consumption rates among European countries. However, the SHoT study has shown that a large number of the Norwegian student population are struggling with responsible alcohol consumption despite the strict regulatory approach.  

While linking the revenue of selling alcohol to the welfare system is in my opinion a good approach that should be implemented more widely across countries, I am not entirely convinced that the harsh regulations, especially regarding opening hours and the prohibition of consuming alcohol in public places, are the best solutions. Such measures may actually increase the alcohol consumption from black markets and incentivize the production of homemade alcohol which can be detrimental to health and contradict the goals of the Alcohol Act. Don’t get me wrong, alcohol can have negative side effects and these should not be dismissed, and awareness campaigns are important in this regard, but I do believe that the more you restrict something, the more interesting it becomes and as long as people want to drink alcohol they will find a way to do so and will not be disincentivized by harsh regulations.   



Act on the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages, etc. (Alcohol Act), (1990).
Bjørnson Hagen, H. (2022, December 6). Flere blir seksuelt trakassert på julebord. Dette gjør du hvis det skjer. Dagsavisen.
Federal Ministry of Health. (2023, September 11). Alkohol. Federal Ministry of Health.
Götestam, K. G., & Röstum, O. (1983). Alcohol Control Policy in the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland). In P. M. Miller & T. D. Nirenberg (Eds.), Prevention of Alcohol Abuse.
Hauge, R. (1996). Alkohol i norsk historie. Norsk Epidemiologi, 6(1), 13–21.
Hauge, R., & Lohiniva, R. J. B. L. (2001). Bevillingssystemet som alkoholpolitisk virkemiddel: en evaluering av endringene i alkoholloven i 1997. Statens institutt for rusmiddelforskning.
Heradstveit, O., Sivertsen, B., Lønning, K.-J., & Skogen, J. C. (2022). The Extent of Alcohol-Related Problems Among College and University Students in Norway Prior to and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health, 10.
Johansen, P. O. (2013). The Norwegian Alcohol Prohibition; A Failure. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 14(S1).
Johansen, T. O. M. (2023, November 22). Nordiske råd sier null alkohol – vurderer endringer i Norge. NRK.
Karlsson, T., & Österberg, E. (2003). Norway. In E. Österberg & T. Karlsson (Eds.), Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports.
OECD. (n.d.). Alcohol consumption among adults. OECDiLibrary.
Skjelbred, G. E., & Thoresen Lønnes, S. (2023, November 16). Mener flere bør vurdere alkoholfrie julebord: – Redd for å bli trigga. NRK.
WHO. (2023, June 30). Reducing alcohol consumption, the Nordic way: alcohol monopolies, marketing bans and higher taxation. WHO.


, , , , , ,
Latest Posts from Unikum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.