Finnish adolescents use less alcohol and drugs and perceive the risks smaller than before

Around one in four Finnish 15–16 year-olds abstain from alcohol and drugs, and binge drinking is on the decrease. Even daily smoking and experimenting with tobacco have fallen steadily in the 2000s. Adolescents perceived, however, the risks of alcohol and drug use as small, and the use of moist snuff and e-cigarettes is on the increase.

These findings derive from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), which has been conducted every four years since 1995 in 23–26 European countries. The target group is young people who will be 16 years old during the calendar year of the survey. In Finland, this age group attends the ninth grade of comprehensive school.

Adolescents are interested in snuff and new nicotine products

One in ten 15–16 year-olds smoked daily in 2015, compared to one in five four years earlier. While smoking has decreased, experimenting with moist snuff has increased among both boys and girls. As many as 42 per cent of boys had used moist snuff occasionally in 2015, compared to around one in four boys in 2007. Experimenting with moist snuff among girls has increased from 11 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2015.

Use of e-cigarette and water pipe (shisha) was included in the survey for the first time in 2015. About half of the boys and a third of the girls had smoked e-cigarettes at some point. Around one in five 15–16 year-olds had experimented with water pipe.

Alcohol use has dropped but no major changes in drug use

The proportion of abstainers among 15–16 year-olds has increased over the years from one in ten adolescents in 1995 to one in four in 2015. Even binge drinking has decreased among adolescents. While about half of 15–16 year-olds had drunk at least six units at one occasion once or more often during the past 30 days in 1995, only one in four adolescents had done so in 2015. Gender differences are minor.

No changes were detected in cannabis experimenting and use among 15–16 year-olds. In 2015, ten per cent of boys and seven per cent of girls had at some point experimented with cannabis. Other illegal drugs are rarely used by 15–16 year-olds: three per cent reported having occasionally experimented with some other drug than cannabis.

There have been little changes over the past four years in the non-prescription use of sedatives or hypnotics. The number of adolescents who mix alcohol and pills has decreased steadily since 1995. Mixing alcohol and pills is still more common among girls than boys.

Adolescents perceive the risks of alcohol and drug use smaller than before

The risks associated with regular moderate drinking are perceived minor by an increasing number of 15–16 year-olds. Even experimenting with cannabis is perceived to be less risky than before. On the other hand, attitudes towards binge drinking have become less liberal.

The more liberal attitudes towards cannabis can predict use in later life. Using moist snuff or e-cigarettes may increase adolescents’ dependence on nicotine. Achieving lower levels of alcohol consumption even among older generations requires studies into the reasons why adolescents drink less than before.

To prevent alcohol and drug related harm people need to be informed of the risks of alcohol and drug use. Educational institutions and municipalities’ youth administration play key roles in this information dissemination.

The international ESPAD report, scheduled to be finalised in August or September, will show how Finland ranks among other European countries.

Source: THL