Finland: Measures to decrease mean alcohol consumption prevent effectively heavy drinking

There is a strong positive association between mean alcohol consumption and the prevalence of heavy drinkers in Finland, Norway and the USA, according to a recent international comparison.

The research findings indicate that changes were collective, i.e. a change in mean consumption was accompanied by a consumption change in the same direction in all consumer categories.

The prevalence of heavy drinkers changed upwards or downwards in accordance with changes in mean consumption. In Finland and Norway, an increase in mean consumption was reflected in an increase in the prevalence of heavy drinkers, while in the USA, there was a decrease in both mean consumption and the prevalence of heavy drinkers.

The findings are important for alcohol policies

Alcohol policy debates often focus on heavy drinkers. There are two common arguments: the first argument claims that there are no ways to influence the prevalence of heavy drinkers, while the second asserts that heavy drinkers only respond to targeted measures.

The recent findings confirm, however, that the prevalence of heavy drinkers can be influenced by reducing mean consumption. The findings also indicate that measures targeting the general population, such as raising alcohol prices or restricting access by shorter hours of sale, can have stronger effects on heavy drinkers than targeted measures. Brief interventions targeting heavy drinkers and treatment and rehabilitation services for persons with addiction problems are, of course, a part of the comprehensive approach to reducing alcohol-induced harm.

The study was based on cross-sectional general population surveys from Finland, Norway and the USA in which data on annual alcohol consumption cover several decades. The Finnish data came from the Finnish Drinking Habits Survey carried out every eight years since 1968 to study alcohol use among Finns. Those who reported drinking more than 18 litres of pure alcohol a year were counted as heavy drinkers.

Source: THL