AIMS: The aim of this paper is to study short-term changes in alcohol consumption by subgroups of the population in Denmark, Finland and southern Sweden following large-scale decreases in alcohol taxation in Denmark and Finland and large increases in travellers' allowances in Finland and Sweden. DESIGN: General population random samples surveyed before and after the changes, using northern Sweden as a control site. SETTING: Denmark, Finland, southern Sweden and northern Sweden. PARTICIPANTS: Respondents aged 16-69 years. MEASUREMENTS: Volume of drinking is the main measure reported. Changes are examined by gender, age, income and year 2003 consumption level. RESULTS: Consumption decreased or remained the same among women and men in all three study sites. Relative changes were similar across subgroups of age, gender and income in all countries. In absolute terms, there was a consistent differential change by age in Denmark, Finland and Southern Sweden, with the higher level of the young and lower level of the old converging. Women's and men's consumption converged in Finland and southern Sweden. The changes did not differ systematically by income. Changes were not larger among heavier drinkers. CONCLUSIONS: The results did not confirm expectations: an increase in consumption larger than that in the control site could not be shown in any of the countries or subgroups of the population. If there has been an effect -- as shown in aggregate data in Finland -- it seems to have been stronger among the old than the young and, in Finland and southern Sweden, among women rather than men.