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Finnish regular alcohol use has decreased – risky drinking still common

31.10.2023 - Finnish regular alcohol consumption has decreased as we entered the 2020s. The proportion of those consuming alcohol weekly or more often decreased from 52% to 48% among men and from 29% to 22% among women between the years 2016 and 2023.

This is evident from the Drinking Habits Study conducted by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which has been carried out regularly at approximately eight-year intervals since 1968.

“The decrease in alcohol consumption is a good thing for the health and well-being of the population. It is necessary to support the continuation of this positive development with alcohol policy measures that reduce harm which curb the availability and consumption of alcoholic beverages – that is, by maintaining the current percentage limits for alcoholic beverages sold in stores and the high taxation on alcoholic beverages,” says Pia Mäkelä, Research Professor at THL.

Men aged 55–69 drink alcohol most frequently

Six per cent of men and two per cent of women used alcohol at least four times a week in 2023. Alcohol was most frequently consumed by men aged 55–69. Of them, 62% used alcohol at least weekly, and 11% four times a week or more often.

The proportion of teetotalers in the population remained at the same level between 2016 and 2023, around 10% for men and 14% for women.

“The proportion of teetotalers decreased for a long time, but the decrease stopped in the early 2000s when slightly less than a tenth of the respondents were teetotalers,” notes Janne Härkönen, a specialist researcher from THL.

“After this, teetotalism has become slightly more common, especially among women and those under 55. Teetotalism became more common before 2016 than after.”

Binge drinking still most common among young adults

Although alcohol consumption has generally decreased, regular binge drinking was nearly as common at the population level in 2023 as in 2016. In 2023, 21% of respondents drank at least six alcohol units at a time monthly or more often, while the corresponding proportion in 2016 was 22%.

“Binge drinking of over six units continued to decrease among 20-34-year-olds, but it may even have increased among middle-aged men,” states Pia Mäkelä.

Traditionally, binge drinking has been most common among 20–34-year-olds, but the differences between age groups in drinking six alcohol units at a time have almost disappeared for men and narrowed for women.

Heavy binge drinking, defined as drinking at least 13 units at a time, also decreased across different age groups, but it was still most common among 20–34-year-olds in 2023. Forty-one per cent of men in this age group had drunk at least 13 units at a time on at least one day in the previous year.

“Alcohol consumption is related to social interaction and celebration in the lives of young adults. Young people may not necessarily think about the harms of binge drinking,” notes Pia Mäkelä.

Risk consumption has decreased – risky drinking still common among men

Alcohol risk consumption has slightly decreased. In 2023, alcohol consumption exceeded the moderate risk limit for 15% of men and 9% of women, whereas the corresponding proportions in 2016 were 18% and 11%.

The Current Care Guidelines in Finland set the moderate risk limit for alcohol consumption at over 14 units per week for men and over 7 units per week for women.

Men’s heavier drinking is also reflected in the harms caused by alcohol use, with men experiencing more harm in different areas of life than women. The most commonly encountered harms were health problems and problems at home or in relationships.

Actions are needed to reduce and prevent alcohol harms

The decrease in Finnish alcohol consumption observed in the Drinking Habits Study is positive for the health and well-being of the population, and it is necessary to support the continuation of this positive development with harm-reducing alcohol policy measures.

“The results of the ‘Healthy Finland’ postal survey collected by THL in the autumn of 2022 also support the Drinking Habits Study’s result of a decrease in regular alcohol consumption among Finns,” evaluates Pia Mäkelä.

“In the prevention and reduction of harms caused by alcohol use, it is necessary to pay more attention to the differences between different population groups in long-term risk drinking and binge drinking,” states Katariina Warpenius, a special researcher from THL.

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