FINLAND: Abstaining from alcohol still common among young people, but experimenting with cannabis has increased

Based on a study conducted among pupils in grade 9 of basic education, maintaining a sober lifestyle continues to be common among young people: 31 per cent use hardly any alcohol and even fewer smoke. There has also been a drop in snuff use, which soared among boys in recent years – although girls use snuff more frequently than before. Young people also gamble on slot machines less frequently than previously.

An exception to the long-term positive development is the increase in experimenting with cannabis, particularly among boys.

This information was revealed by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). The study has been conducted every fourth year since 1995 in 23–39 European countries. Pupils turning 16 during the year of study participated in the survey. In Finland, the participants are in grade 9 in basic education.

Young people use less and less alcohol

The share of pupils abstaining from alcohol use has increased from some 10 per cent in 1995 to 31 per cent in 2019.

Binge drinking has continued declining among boys, but this drop seems to have halted among girls. At the turn of the century, around half of the young people had drunk at least six portions of alcohol at once during the previous 30 days. In 2019, only 22 per cent of young people did this. The differences in binge drinking between boys and girls are minor.

Young people also more often consider that drinking heavily on a single occasion as well as small portions at a regular rate involves major risks.

Increase in cannabis users – most of them also use alcohol

In recent years, there has been an increase in pupils in grade 9 who have experimented with and used cannabis. In 2019, 13 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of girls had experimented with cannabis at some point during their lives; in 2015, the corresponding rates were 10 and 7 per cent. An increasing number of young people also believe that only few or no risks are related to using cannabis, and more of them believe that it is easy to obtain cannabis.

“The frequently presented view that an increase in cannabis use could be caused by a reduction in alcohol consumption does not appear to hold true, at least among under-aged people”, says Senior Researcher Kirsimarja Raitasalo of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

“During the entire observation period, cannabis use has been more common among the young people who use alcohol, particularly those regularly engaged in binge drinking, compared to those abstaining from alcohol use. It appears that cannabis has not replaced alcohol, but has instead been adopted alongside it”, she continues.

Using other illegal drugs is uncommon among 15–16-year-olds. Three per cent of the young people reported having experimented with some drug other than cannabis at some point.

Young people’s attitudes towards cannabis have been becoming more moderate for a long time by now. Cannabis use has been increasing for a long time among young adults, particularly men. While no increase occurred in cannabis experiments among under-aged people until 2015, there has also been an increase in cannabis experimentation among this group in recent years.

Experimenting with snuff has dropped among boys, increased among girls

Daily smoking has decreased considerably. In 2019, around 8 per cent of pupils in grade 9 smoked daily, compared to 20 per cent at the start of the decade.

However, the increase in snuff use had emerged as an additional challenge in the 2010s. While experimenting with snuff has reduced among boys after 2015, the rates have increased among girls. In 2019, 35 per cent of boys and 19 per cent of girls had used snuff at some point. Around 10 per cent of boys and girls had used snuff within the previous 30 days.

At 34 per cent, fewer young people than before had experimented with e-cigarettes at some point of their lives.

“To prevent harm caused by substance use, it is important to provide factual information about intoxicants everywhere where we encounter young people. Educational institutions and municipal youth services play a key role in disseminating information. Supporting families with children starting when the children are little is of primary importance for the prevention of distress and risky behaviours, such as substance abuse”, Raitasalo says.

The international report of the ESPAD survey will be completed between August and September, at which point it will be revealed how Finland compares with other European countries. It is already known that alcohol use has continued to decrease and no changes have occurred in cannabis use in Sweden and Norway, where both alcohol and cannabis use rates are somewhat lower among 15–16-year-olds than in Finland.


Raitasalo, Kirsimarja and Härkönen, Janne. Nuorten päihteiden käyttö ja rahapelaaminen – ESPAD-tutkimus 2019. / Intoxicant use and gambling among young people – ESPAD survey 2019. Statistical report 40, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2019. (In Finnish.)