Alcohol consumption in Finland has decreased, but over half a million are still at risk from excessive drinking

Total consumption of alcohol in Finland increased up to 2007, and since then has decreased by nearly a fifth. Hazardous alcohol use is nevertheless still common: According to a survey of drinking habits, the alcohol consumption of at least 13% of the population is sufficient to increase their long-term health risks. This is equivalent to 560,000 Finns.

Drunkenness and its associated risks are even more common: 57% of the population have exceeded the drinking limit (at least five units in succession) at least once during the preceding year. Of total alcohol consumption, 78% is classed as hazardous use, meaning that it is either consumed by problem users or is consumed in situations where the drinking limit is exceeded.

‘When people consider the risks of alcohol, they mostly think of the long-term health risks caused by high levels of consumption. The risks associated with drunkenness, however, affect a much larger number of people’, explains Research Professor Pia Mäkelä from the National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Alcohol consumption has reduced from its record levels

Total consumption of alcoholic drinks in Finland increased by 350% between the start of the 1960s and 2007. At its high point, alcohol consumption was at 12.7 litres for every person aged 15 or over. Since then, alcohol consumption has decreased by nearly one fifth.

The drinking habits survey indicates that between 2008 and 2016, which was the time when overall consumption was decreasing, the following health-enhancing changes have taken place in Finns aged between 15 and 69:

  • the percentage of men who consume alcohol every week has decreased from 60% to 53%
  • the percentage of women who consume alcohol every week has decreased from 35% to 28%
  • the quantity of alcohol consumed in one sitting has decreased for men
  • the percentage of completely teetotal men has increased from 10% to 12%
  • the percentage of completely teetotal women has increased from 10% to 15%.

In addition

  • alcohol consumption by minors has significantly decreased since the start of the millennium
  • the long-term growth trend in alcohol consumption by retired people appears to have been reversed.

1,200,000 Finns have experienced negative drinking consequences

According to the survey, a total of 1,200,000 Finns have experienced in the preceding year negative drinking consequences, such as rows, fights or accidents. If we deduct from this number the most common, and relatively light, consequence of ‘regrettable words or actions’, the number having experienced at least one negative drinking consequence still remains at close to 900,000.

Acute alcohol-related problems, such as accidents, have decreased as overall consumption and drunkenness have decreased. The share of chronic problems has increased over both the period surveyed and over the longer term: 27% of alcohol-related deaths in 1987 resulted from chronic illnesses, while the equivalent figure for 2016 was 64%.

Drinking by minors decreased significantly throughout the last decade. Nevertheless, it is young, under-30-year-olds for whom drunkenness episodes as a proportion of total alcohol consumption episodes is at its highest, and this age group also experience the most negative drinking consequences. Over half of 15–29-year-olds (46%) had experienced negative drinking consequences, while the equivalent figure for 30–59-year-olds was 21% and for 60–79-year-olds just 6%.

Finns often consume alcohol at the weekends, at home, and together with their partner

The drinking habits survey also highlights the typical features of Finnish alcohol use. Finns typically consume alcohol at home (77% of drinking episodes), together with their partner (43% of drinking episodes), at the weekend from Friday to Sunday (68% of episodes) between 8pm and 9pm (840,000 Finns are having a drink on Saturdays between 8pm and 9pm), and totalling less than four units (68% of episodes). Finns prefer brewery products (49% of recorded consumption) and do not normally consume alcohol with food (8% drink wine with food every week, 7% drink beer).

Over 50 years of drinking habit surveys

The characteristics of Finnish alcohol use are described in the book ‘How Finns Drink’, which was published today and which is based primarily on the drinking habit surveys carried out regularly since 1968. The most recent data collection for the drinking habits survey was carried out in Autumn 2016 and involved the participation of 2285 Finns. In earlier surveys, respondents were aged between 15 and 69; the most recent survey included for the first time 70–79-year-olds.

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