Greenlanders were first exposed to alcohol by European whalers and had relatively regular access to alcohol since Denmark colonized Greenland in 1721. Denmark prohibited trade in alcohol with Greenlanders in 1782, but a pattern of binge drinking had apparently already been established. In the mid 1950s, Greenland received equal rights as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and in 1954, free sale of alcohol was permitted. Alcohol consumption rose from an estimated 9 liters of 100 percent alcohol per inhabitant 14 years of age and older to 22 liters in 1987, at which time alcohol abuse was a major social problem that spawned myriad other social pathologies, including domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and suicide. By 2006, per capita consumption had dropped by nearly one half to 11.7 liters, which was still high by North American and Nordic standards, but about equal with Denmark’s consumption level. Although alcohol abuse has declined sharply in Greenland in the past two decades, it remains a serious social problem, and lies at the root of Greenland’s high rates of child abuse and neglect and suicide. This paper will address the history of Greenland’s experience with alcohol and current alcohol related problems and policies.
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