Greece has a very long history of production and consumption of wines, and drinking alcohol is a traditional and socially accepted way of socialisation among men, and more recently also among women and youth. With regard to youth, drinking is considered a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood.

Especially in rural areas, alcoholic beverages are consumed at meals every day and identified with a traditional way of life. Not only is alcohol legally available, but people are also more or less culturally forced to drink on certain social occasions. However, this does not necessarily mean that alcohol consumption, and especially wine consumption, reinforces or is related to social problems. On the contrary, wine may be associated with spiritual qualities, since drinking in the Greek society is often still integrated into social and religious structures, and under certain circumstances drinking alcohol functions as a sign of social integration and socialisation. [1]

These social and religious structures provide controls against excessive drinking, as do close family and neighbourhood ties in rural areas. Family and community control, in the form of negative and non-permissive attitudes towards excessive drinking behaviour, might play a preventive part in the case of individuals susceptible to alcohol abuse and dependence. Socio-economic transformations as well as economic upheavals in recent decades have also influenced the patterns of alcohol consumption [2].

Althought adult per capita consumption spiked to around 13 litres of pure alcohol in the late 1970s, it has decreased relatively steadily since then to under 10 litres per capita in 2001. [3]

Youth Drinking: According to the 1997/1998 HBSC survey (total sample size n = 1322), 52% of 15-year-old boys and 31% of 15- year-old girls reported drinking beer, wine or spirits at least weekly. [4]

Youth alcohol consumption: A 1998 survey of Greek adolescent students (total sample size n = 8557; aged 13–18 years old) showed that current alcohol consumption (in the month prior to the survey) was reported by 74% of the students (78.3% of boys and 70% of girls). The breakdown for last month consumption by age groups were as follows: 13–14 years old (61.5%), 15–16 years old (73.6%) and 17–18 years old (82.7%). The survey also found that 15.8% of boys and 8.6% of girls reported frequent use of alcohol in the last month (10+ times). The breakdown by age groups were as follows: 13–14 years old (6.4%), 15–16 years old (10.6%) and 17–18 years old (17.9%). Frequent alcohol consumption was most prevalent in semi-urban areas (14.3%) and least prevalent in Athens (10.8%). [5]

Youth preferences: Beer was the most popular type of alcohol consumed by students, the majority of them (62.8%) reporting its consumption a few times a month or more frequently, while next in preference were cocktail drinks and wine. [6]

Alcohol Policy

Both the general public and the state administration believe that there are no serious alcohol-related problems in the country. Despite the absence of a comprehensive state preventive alcohol policy, the individual ministries and organisations have developed a number of policy measures also affecting the alcohol field since the 1950s.

Awareness of the issue of preventing alcohol problems is, however, growing and has been since the 1990s. A policy measure reflecting this increasing awareness is the implementation of breathalyser tests by the traffic police on the main roads. The introduction of these tests was partly a result of the Alchol Action Plan intitated by the World Health Organisation's Regional Office for Europe and the European Charter on Alcohol, which Greece signed during the Paris Conference in December 12-14, 1995.

In terms of alcohol producers in Greece, a license is needed to operate, but that license is not perceived to be a preventative measure because it is only meant to be a way of ensuring good standard of quality for the alcohol beverages produced. Importers and wholesalers need a license which is renewed periodically and off-premise retailers are required to have one, as well, although their licenses are granted on a permanent basis and are not alchol specific. [6]

Alcohol Advertising

There are currently no restrictions concerning alcohol advertising, sales promotion and sponsorship. At the beginning of the 1990s there was, however, an effort made towards decreasing the number of alcohol advertisements on television, and some regulations were introduced by the Ministry of Social Security, including information against drunk driving. [7]

[1] Gefou-Madianou, D. (Ed.) (1992a) Alcohol Gender and Culture (London and New York, Routledge).

[2] Moser, J. (1992) Alcohol Problems, Policies and Programmes in Europe: Greece, 135–
142 (Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe).

[3] FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), World Drink Trends 2003.

[4] Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: a WHO Cross-National Study (HBSC) International Report. Copenhagen, World Health Organization, 2000.

[5] & [6] Kokkevi A et al. Substance use among high school students in Greece: outburst of illicit drug use in a society under change. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2000, 58(1–2):181–188.

[6] & [7] Gefou-Madianou, Dimitra with Karlsson, Thomas and Österberg, Esa. "Chapter 9: Greece." Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports. Esa Österberg and Thomas Karlsson, Eds. May 2003.