The Missing Link: new report suggests targeted action, rather than population-wide measures, may be tool of choice in the fight against harmful alcohol consumption

Brussels, 17 January 2022 – A new report commissioned by spiritsEUROPE analyses the effectiveness and efficiency of untargeted population-wide measures in relation to the reduction of harmful alcohol consumption and comes to a sobering conclusion.

Today, spiritsEUROPE published the report ‘The Missing Link’ which analyses the complex associations between per capita alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm based on long-term real-life data from Sweden and other European countries.

Following an extensive analysis of six decades of recorded alcohol consumption data in Sweden the report concludes that there is no clear long-term correlation between the level of, and trend in, general per capita alcohol consumption and specific trends in major alcohol-related harm indicators such as heavy episodic drinking, life expectancy at birth, drink- driving deaths, underage drinking, or chronic diseases related to harmful alcohol consumption. The author therefore concludes that targeted harm-reduction measures focused on at-risk groups will likely be more effective and efficient than broad, untargeted policy approaches affecting the entire population.

Total per capita alcohol consumption in Sweden – both recorded and unrecorded – went through several ups and downs over the past 60 years while income increased significantly over the same period: today, Swedish people earn more than three times as much as they earned in 1960. Advocates of untargeted population-wide measures often claim that the higher the price for alcoholic beverages, the lower the level of general per capita consumption and hence, alcohol-related harm. However, this claim does not really hold up when looking at the socio-economic realities and consumption patterns observed in a country such as Sweden over the past 60 years.

In the long run, the affordability of alcoholic beverages in Sweden seems to have had little or no impact on average per capita alcohol consumption, which suggests that alcohol affordability does not correlate with per capita alcohol consumption in the way it is often proposed. Moreover, alcohol-related harm indicators are declining irrespective of the level and trend in per capita alcohol consumption. Other factors than affordability and per capita alcohol consumption may better explain the decline in alcohol-related harm indicators”, said Dr Gregor Zwirn, the report’s lead investigator.

Another encouraging finding of the report is that, today, the Nordic drinking culture appears to be approaching consistently the Mediterranean drinking style of moderate consumption. The way Swedes consume alcoholic beverages as well as their choice of alcoholic beverages have changed, with heavy episodic drinking on the decline.

For years, the spirits sector has been committed to help fighting harmful drinking, and we believe that a one-size-fits-all approach does not exist. Rather than restricting all consumers, there seems to be a need to pursue targeted harm reduction strategies that better protect those most at risk. Doing so holds the promise of further improving the many positive trends in terms of moderate alcohol consumption that can be observed in various European countries such as Sweden in recent years”, said Ulrich Adam, Director General of spiritsEUROPE.



For further information, please contact:

Ulrich Adam

Director General

Tel: + 32 (2) 477636751


Gregor Zwirn

G. Z. Research & Consulting KG

Tel: + 43.680.218.47.


  • spiritsEUROPE proudly represents the EU spirits sector, one of Europe’s most valuable agri-food export sectors and, with it, the interests of 31 associations of spirits producers as well as 11 leading multinational companies.
  • To access ‘The Missing Link: Per Capita Alcohol Consumption & Alcohol-Related Harm”, please click here
  • Alcohol consumption decreased by -8% in 2020. While a significant increase in off-premise sales and e-commerce was observed, actual consumption rates went down in, e.g., Spain (-16%), Poland (-5%), Italy (-15%), Mexico (-20%) – IWSR Data  
  • Figures from the Trimbos institute showed that 49% of people between 16-35 cut down on their drinking during the first lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.


17.01.2022 The Missing Link: new report suggests targeted action, rather than population-wide measures, may be tool of choice in the fight against harmful alcohol consumption
STAY CONNECTED: Keep up-to-date with spiritsEUROPE’s activities via our Twitter & Newsletter