Dutch alcohol policy

The government is working to combat alcohol abuse in our society.
The measures are aimed at:
- preventing young people from drinking before they turn 18;
- encouraging people over 18 to drink responsibly;
- reducing the number of people who are psychologically or physically addicted to alcohol;
- minimising the consequences of alcohol abuse, such as public antisocial behaviour, domestic violence and traffic accidents.

Important target groups are youngsters and problem drinkers. Six kinds of policy instruments are used:
1. Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act
2. Rules on alcohol advertising
3. Penalties for driving while intoxicated
4. Taxation
5. Education and prevention
6. Treatment and rehabilitation

An important principle in Dutch alcohol policy is, that only a well-balanced coherent package of measures is considered to be effective.

Policy memoranda
The first adopted alcohol policy memorandum (Alcohol en Samenleving) dates from 1986. The second one was the so-called Alcoholnota.
A more recent alcohol policy document is the (Hoofdlijnenbrief alcoholbeleid) from 20 November 2007. It was a joined memorandum from the ministers of Health, Welfare and Sport, of Youth and Family and of the Interior. It has been debated in Dutch Parliament in December 2007.
In December 2016 State Secretary of Health, Martin van Rijn, sent an Evaluation of the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act to parliament. This document also addresses other alcohol policy instruments (including excise duty) and can therefore be seen as an alcohol policy document. The discussion of this document in Parliament was in February 2017.

National Prevention Agreement
The National Prevention Agreement was launched on 23 November 2018. The document consists of a package of projects and measures on reducing smoking, overweight and problematic alcohol use. The cabinet and the 70 signatories want, among others, to achieve a smoke-free generation in 2040, that young people and pregnant women do not drink alcohol, that everyone is much more aware of the risks of alcohol, that the number of problem drinkers falls, as well as the number of people who are overweight. The Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP is one of the signatories.

Alcohol Manifesto and Dutch Alcohol Policy Alliance
11 health organizations launched at the end of 2016 an Alcohol Manifesto. In the Alcohol Manifesto, the organizations challenge the national government and local authorities to give priority to three effective alcohol policy measures (the so-called 3 Best Buys): an increase in the price of alcohol, a reduction in the number of sales outlets and a ban on alcohol advertising.

The organizations signing the Alcohol Manifesto are the following: FAS Foundation of the Netherlands, GGD GHOR Nederland (the Association of Community Health Services and Regional Medical Emergency Preparedness and Planning services), Iriszorg, Jellinek Amsterdam, Lectoraat Verslaving Hogeschool Windesheim, Mondriaan Centrum voor Geestelijke Gezondheid, Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP, Nederlandse Vereniging van Drank- en Horecawet Inspecteurs (NVDI), Novadic-Kentron, Verslavingspreventie Nederland en Victas Centrum voor Verslavingszorg. The Collaboration of Health Funds supports the Alcohol Manifesto.

Since 1 January 2020, some of these organizations have been working together as AAN: The Dutch Alcohol Policy Alliance in order to be able to make a joint statement at regular intervals in the future as well. The first plan is to organize an Alcohol Action Week in november 2020. Various social organizations have joined this initiative.

Alcohol en Samenleving (14,4 MB)

Alcoholnota (195 kB)

Hoofdlijnenbrief alcoholbeleid (69,2 kB)

Evaluatie Drank- en Horecawet (376 kB)

Alcoholmanifest (0,96 MB)

Nationaal Preventieakkoord (528 kB)


1. Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act

The Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act (1964) is a statutory law regulating the selling and serving of alcohol. The law is the responsibility of the minister of Health, Welfare and Sport.

According to the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act mildly alcoholic beverages as beer, wine and low alcohol content spirits are sold only in grocery and tobacco stores and licensed liquor stores. Petrol stations are not allowed selling alcoholic drinks. The sale of strong alcoholic beverages (spirits with alcohol content of 15% or more) is restricted to licensed liquor stores.
On premise alcohol selling is allowed in licensed pubs/restaurants and other licensed drinking places.

Licences are issued by the municipalities. The licensing terms are fairly strict.
Firstly the personal situation of the applicant is examined. The applicant should not have committed any serious crimes during the last five years or be a repeat offender of less serious crimes, for example, drunken driving. In addition to this, the applicant should have passed a course on management of alcohol affairs and other issues of ”responsible serving”. These requirements do not apply to the licence candidate only, but also to the person who tends the store or the pub/restaurant. The licence-holder and the tender should be at least 21 years old.

Also important are the building requirements of licensed outlets. The minimum floor area of a liquor store is 15 m2, of a pub/restaurant 35 m2. The outlet has to be a separate room or building. It is not admissible to have a liquor store and a pub/restaurant in the same room. Liquor stores should not be in direct connection with an other store (there must be at least a hallway between both stores). Alcoholic beverages are not allowed to be sold in kiosks; that is, through a window.

Dutch Parliament agreed in 2012 to amend the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act. This amendment became effective January 1, 2013. The most important element is that local authorities have now more competences. Some new powers:
• To forbid exorbitant price promotions, such as happy hours in pubs/restaurants and price breakers in grocery stores and liquor stores;
• To determine an access age to pubs/restaurants (also after a certain point in time);
• To enforce all the rules regarding the selling of alcohol (before the enforcement was in the hands of Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority);
• To prohibit for one to twelve weeks the sale of alcoholic drinks by grocery stores frequently violating under age drinking regulations.

Alcohol age 18


Since January 1, 2014 there is one age limit of 18 years for on and for off premise purchasing of both mildly and strong alcoholic beverages. 18 is the most common alcohol purchasing age in the European Region (overview here).

Public possession of alcohol is now a punishable offence for children under 18. Young people age 12 to 18 caught drinking or possessing alcohol on the road, in parks, festivals, campingsites (exception the tents of the guests), pubs and restaurants can be penalized. The fine is €47,50 for youngsters under 16 and €95 for youngsters age 16 and 17. An alternative sanction (transferral to a Halt-programme) is also possible.

Supermarkets, liquor stores, hotels, restaurants and pubs that sell alcohol without checking if the customer is above 18 risk a fine of €1,360. If liquor stores, hotels, restaurants or pubs habitually sell alcohol to young people without checking their age, the mayor can suspend their licence. If a supermarket sells alcohol to young people three times in one year without checking their age, the mayor can temporarily prohibit it from selling alcohol (for a maximum of 12 weeks).

The 18+-amendment was introduced by 4 MP's in a members bill.

New Alcohol Act in 2021

In November 2019 State Secretary Paul Blokhuis presented a bill to amend the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act. One year later, the 1st of December 2020, the House of Representatives approved his bill, altough there were some major amendments. 15 Days later the bill has been approved by the Senate. Most provisions of the law are expected to enter into force on July 2021. Then the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act will be renamed to Alcohol Act.

The main changes in the alcohol legislation are:

1. Criminalization of onward supplying
* Adults who pass on alcohol to minors in public spaces (onward supplying) will be fined.
* Extention of the prohibition of public possession of alcohol by young people between 12 and 18 years.

2. No more extreme discount prices
* Price promotions in the retail trade, especially in supermarkets and online shops, with more than 25% discount are no longer allowed.

3. Tightening of the rules for online sales
* Websites selling strong alcoholic beverages are only allowed to offer products that liquor stores sell.
* Online orders for alcoholic beverages can only be placed after using an online age check and a delivery method that guarantees compliance with the age limit.

4. More power for municipalities
* Municipalities have the option to set higher floor area requirements for pubs/restaurants (minimum is 35 m²) and liquor stores (minimum is 15 m²).
* Municipalities will be able to allow liquor stores to organize courses and tastings outside opening hours.
* Municipalities can designate 'alcohol nuisance areas' and take appropriate measures.
* Municipalities can require that commercial caterers on boats and other means of transport need a Certificate Responsible Serving.

5. New enforcement regulations
* Public possession of alcohol is not a punishable offence for 16 and 17-year-old test purchasers who work in the context of enforcement.
* The enforcement of online alcohol sales and the ban on extreme discount prices will be centralised (one national agency).
* That enforcement agency may use a fictitious identity to supervise compliance with the age limit for online sales.
* There will be an independent National Responsible Serving Committee. This mainly determines who is entitled to registration in the Register Responsible Serving.

6. Adjustment of the building requirements
* Lifting of almost all the special requirements of licensed outlets (such as ceiling height and requirements for the toilet area). Exceptions: the national minimum floor area requirement of a pub/restaurant stays 35 m² and for liquor stores 15 m². Also the mandatory hallway between a liquor store and other stores remains unchanged.
* A definition will be introduced in the law that makes it clear that licensed pubs/restaurants and liquor stores are located in buildings or in seperate rooms that have walls or partition constructions on all sides.

7. Ralaxation of the rules for the drinks industry
* Public possession of alcohol is not a punishable offence for 14 and 15 year old students in the context of an internship in a hotel or restaurant.
* The access ban to liquor stores for minors will be lifted.
* In casinos with gaming tables, alcoholic beverages may be served in the room with the gaming tables.
* In the future only the managers of certain categories of companies need to be listed on the licence and need to be screened.

Not listed in the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act

Supermarkets have jointly agreed to ask anyone who looks younger than 25 to show an ID when buying alcohol. This is not based on the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act.

In the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act there are no national regulations as to pub/restaurant opening and closing hours. This is completely the competence of the municipalities.

No alcohollicence is required if someone only serves non-alcoholic beverages (alcohol content of 0.5% or less).

There are in the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act also no provisions concerning the production, importation or exportation of alcoholic beverages. That is not to say that there is nothing settled at this point. There are rules regarding certain ingredients that may not (or limited) be used and regarding the naming of alcoholic drinks. Producers and traders need a licence because of excise duties.

Labels for alcohol content and allergens are required (harmonized European Union regulations). As of December 13, 2014 these obligations are part of the new European labelling regulation (1169/2011). In this EU legislation there is an exemption for alcoholic drinks: for these products it is not obliged to mention the ingredients and the energy value. At the request of the European Commission the alcoholic beverages' industry presented in march 2018 a self-regulatory proposal. It is unclear if this will be excepted by the European Commission.

In the Netherlands labels with general or specific health warnings are not required. But on basis of self regulation 89% of the bottles have an alcohol and pregnancy icon. Unfortunately, these are very small and hard to see.

Zwangerschapslogo 4


2. Rules on advertising

In the Netherlands there are three different sources with regulations about alcohol advertising and marketing:
1. The Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act
2. The Dutch Advertising Code (and associated special codes)
3. The Media Act 2008

The Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act contains an article that gives the minister of Health, Welfare and Sport the competence to regulate alcohol advertising in an order in council. But until now there is no such regulation in force.

Advertising of alcoholic beverages is in the Netherlands mainly controlled by self regulation of the drinks industry. Since 1990 an Advertising Code for Alcoholic Beverages is in effect. It is a special code of the Dutch Advertising Code. In 2000 this code has been amended. Since then there is a voluntary advertising ban on all media if 25% or more of the audience (viewers, listeners, readers or visitors) is under 18 years. Since a 2008 amendment there is an obligatory slogan (as of spring 2014: "No 18, no alcohol"). In the Advertising Code for Alcoholic Beverages the rules of the Audiovisual Media Service Directive are incorporated.

Furthermore, there is since autumn 2020 an Advertising Code for Alcohol Free and Low Alcohol Beer. This code, also a special code of the Dutch Advertising Code, stipulates, among other things, that advertising for non-alcohol and low-alcohol beer may not be aimed at young people under the age of 18 and that advertising for low-alcohol beer must not be aimed at pregnant women and active traffic participation. The code applies to Dutch advertising for all beers with an alcohol content up to 0.5% ABV and applies to all organizations that advertise, such as brewers, supermarkets and the hospitality sector.

As of 2009 the Netherlands has a legal ban on alcohol advertisements on television and radio from 6 am to 9 pm. Dutch broadcasters are not allowed to transmit during these hours commercials for all alcoholic beverages. This "time lock" is included in the Media Act 2008. The rules are enforced by the Dutch Media Authority. From STAP-research it now appears that this “time lock” reduced advertising exposure to the youngest viewers while increasing exposure for the high-risk teenage population. This is because the alcohol producers, after the introduction of the "time lock", have trebled the number of TV-advertisements after 9 p.m.

In 2002 the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport commissioned the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP to monitor the advertising and marketing practices of the drinks industry in the Netherlands. In 2013 the minister stopped the grant for these monitoring activities.

3. Penalties for driving while intoxicated

Road and traffic safety is the responsibility of the minister of Infrastructure and Environment.

In the Netherlands, the legal limit for drivers is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.5 pro mille. Novice drivers (people who received their driving license less than five years ago) are not allowed to have a blood alcohol concentration higher than 0.2 pro mille. This blood alcohol level also applies to people below the age of 24 and - as of July 2017 - for all drivers who used alcohol in combination with illegal drugs.

In the Netherlands random testing is allowed.
The Netherlands has three rehabilitation courses for road users committed drink-driving offences: EMA (Educational Measure Alcohol and Traffic), LEMA (Lighter version of EMA) and EMG (Educational Measure Behaviour and Traffic) .

1. EMA (Educational Measure Alcohol and Traffic) is a three-day course given to people who participated in traffic with a BAC between 1.3 pro mille and 1.8 pro mille.

2. LEMA (Light Educational Measure Alcohol and Traffic) consists of two half-days of 3.5 hours each. LEMA is intended for novice drivers with a BAC between 0.5 pro mille and 0.8 pro mille.

3. EMG (Educational Measure Behaviour and Traffic) is meant for drivers who repeatedly showed undesirable driving behaviour in the course of one drive. Also in the case of one single major speeding offence, a driver can be referred to EMG.

As of December 2011 the Netherlands started an alcohol interlock program for experienced drivers with a BAC between 1.3 pro mille and 1.8 pro mille and for novice drivers with a BAC between 1.0 promille and 1.8 pro mille. The government decided to stop the program in september 2016, as there were many legal and technical problems. The House wants reconsideration of that decision. But the ministers involved are standing firm.

4. Taxation

Taxation is the responsibility of the minister of Finance.

Excise duties are levied on all alcoholic beverages. Like Value Added Tax, excise duties are included in the price the consumer pays. The tax is remitted to the Tax Administration by the manufacturers in the Netherlands, by traders and also by importers of excisable goods (for example, importers of American brandy).

For beer, the excise duty is progressive and is levied according to categories expressed in degrees Plato.
There are two excise duty tariffs on still and sparkling wines. The low rate is for wines with maximum 8.5% ABV. The high rate for all other wines. There is a special excise duty for intermediate products (between wines and spirits, for example port, sherry and vermouth).
For spirits, the excise duty is levied as a set amount per hectolitre of pure alcohol.

The last increase in excise duties was in 2014. As of then all excise duty rates for alcoholic beverages went up by at least 5.75%. A simplification of excise duty rates entered into force in 2017: the consequence was that an extra excise duty on sparkling wines has been abolished.

From then on the excise duty per glass is:

Glass of pilsner beer (250 cc) 9.5 eurocent
Glass of still or sparkling wine (100 cc) 8.8 eurocent
Glass of gin (35 cc) 20.6 eurocent


Excise duty 2020 (53,1 kB)


5. Education and prevention

Massmedia campaigns
In 1986 a large scale national alcohol education project was initiated by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The campaign included mass media activities, mainly television and radio commercials, and regional activities. In the early years the campaign targeted at the general public, later at youngsters and parents. Local prevention workers were involved. At the start the campaign was coordinated by the Ministry, later on by the Netherlands Institute for Health Promotion, since 2008 by the Trimbos Institute. Part of the campaign was a telephone information and helpline. The slogan of all activities (“DRANK maakt meer kapot dan je lief is”) was very well known and excepted by the general public. In 2012 this campaign stopped after 25 years.
In november 2013 the health ministry launched a new perennial campaign to alert the public to the new alcohol and tobacco age limit of 18, featuring a number of celebrities and famous football coach Ronald Koeman. The slogan of this campaign is "NIX18".

Preventive activities in sport canteens
The government also supports - along with insurance company DSW and some sports organizations - preventive activities within sports clubs. The aim is mainly to address the poor compliance with the age limits for serving alcohol in sports canteens. Starting in 2015, paediatrician Nico van der Lely and the Dutch sports federation NOC*NSF will spend four years visiting sports clubs in the Netherlands to raise awareness of the harmful effects of excessive drinking by teenagers.

Information on alcohol to school pupils is developed on a national level (by the Trimbos Institute), but carried out on the regional level as much as possible. The majority of secondary schools and a third of all elementary schools take part in the long-term project “The Healthy School and Drugs”. Since recently the project is also targeting at vocational schools. Attention is paid to all mind altering products as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. “The Healthy School and Drugs” is an integral program. Lessons play an important role, but it also focuses on parent activities, school rules for drugs, monitoring and counseling pupils who have problems using drugs. The project has had and will continue to have a grant from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.

Designated driver campaign
The BoB campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Alongside the general information that is offered during the campaign, there is an increased police surveillance. It is a so called designated driver campaign. A designated driver is a person who abstains from alcohol on a social occasion in order to drive his/her companions home safely. The designated driver is called BoB, a sympathetic person.The BoB campaign originated in Belgium, in 1995, and the concept has been picked up in the Netherlands in 2001. In the Netherlands the campaign is coordinated by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. Participants are the alcohol producers and Safe Traffic Netherlands.

6. Treatment and rehabilitation

In the Netherlands there is a sound network of professional treatment facilities for problem drinkers.

General practitioners offer treatment. But most drinking problems are not recognised in this echelon.

Most problem drinkers are treated in one of the 12 government-financed regional centres for addicts (drug addicts and alcoholics). The care they offer is highly differentiated. The range extends from outpatient treatment programs to clinical treatment. Clinical treatment can be a short detoxification (three weeks), but also short-term hospitalization (up to three months) or longer-term hospitalization offering an intensive treatment program (maximum one year). Clinical treatment is almost always accompanied by outpatient treatment (before or after clinical treatment).
Yearly the 12 regional centres treat 31,000 people with an alcohol problem. The emphasis is on outpatient treatment.

Several organizations offer internet treatments.

Since 2008 young patients (under 18) being hospitalized with severe alcohol intoxication are referred to special treatment facilities with an extensive aftercare program. The results are promising.

Treatment is also offered by some religious organisations, private clinics and many local self help groups (Alcoholics Anonymous). There are also some proven effective e-health programmes, such as and 9Maandenniet.

Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP
P.O. Box 9769
3506 GT Utrecht
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30-6565041
F: +31 (0)30-6565043