Swedes drink like it’s 1870

According to figures from Stockholm’s university the level of alcohol consumption in Sweden increased by 3% between 2003 and 2004. The average Swede aged 15 and over knocked back 10.5 litres of pure alcohol last year.

This puts it frighteningly close to the 1870s levels that caused the introduction of alcohol rationing and, ultimately, Systembolaget.

The biggest increase was amongst women over the age of 50, while the younger generation are actually drinking less.

The report was authored by Håkan Leifman from Stockholm’s University who said to Svenska Dagbladet that he thought that there is now a more evenly spread drinking pattern through all age groups, and not the teenage bingeing of the previous years.

“It’s good news that there is a reduction in both of the youngest groups, among those who have not yet turned 20 and the 20-21 year olds,” said Leifman.

“What’s happening in Sweden is that our consumption is beginning to resemble that in other parts of the EU, where you drink about the same amount through your life. Before we had a unique situation where the very young drank a great deal and then as they got older cut back on their drinking.”

The new figures break down to an average of 13 cl of strong spirits, 61 cl wine, 1.1 litres of strong ale, and 42 cl of beer per Swede per week according to SVT.

Comparisons with alcohol consumption before and after Sweden joined the EU were, of course, inevitable. In 1995 Swedes drank an average of only 7.8 litres of alcohol per person. Before the extension of the EU the European average was about 11.5 to 12 litres per inhabitant per year. With the addition of the new members this average has increased to 13 litres.

So at 10.5 litres Sweden is by no means an exception. What is worrying the government is that now most of this alcohol is bought abroad and imported legally from countries outside of Sweden. Systembolaget’s share of sales fell to 33% in 2004.

Last August a government commissioned report recommended that Sweden should slash its traditionally high taxes on hard liquor to get Swedes to purchase more of their alcohol at home.

“To break the pattern of the strong increase in travel-imports of spirits and to strengthen the Swedish alcohol policy’s legitimacy, we suggest that the tax on hard liquor be lowered by 40% starting on January 1, 2005,” head of the study Kent Härstedt said in the report.

The government’s response to the findings is due this month.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, SVT

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on [email protected], or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.