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In Finland, 89,000 minors have or have had a biological parent with a severe substance abuse problem

Kirsimarja Raitasalo THL
Kirsimarja Raitasalo

28.05.2024 - In Finland, 89,000 minors have at least one biological parent who has experienced a severe substance abuse problem at some point before the child reaches adulthood. This accounts for 8.7 percent of all minors. Currently, 42,000 children have a biological parent with a severe substance abuse problem. Substance abuse issues are more commonly found in fathers than mothers. This information comes from a register study conducted by THL (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare).

Of the substance abuse-related register entries, the majority, 60 percent, are related solely to alcohol use. The remaining entries concern drug use or the use of both alcohol and drugs. Examples of substance abuse-related register entries include a primary or secondary diagnosis related to problematic use of alcohol or drugs, inpatient substance abuse treatment, or substances being a cause of death.

The number of minors was last estimated in 2015. At that time, there was no separate assessment of whether a parent had previously or still had a substance abuse problem. In 2015, it was estimated that there were 65,000–70,000 children in Finland who had at least one parent with a severe substance abuse problem during the child's lifetime before reaching adulthood.

"The number of children affected by their parents' severe substance abuse problems is unfortunately large. However, overall alcohol consumption has been declining in Finland for over a decade. In this context, the proportion of children in families suffering from substance abuse during their childhood and adolescence is even more startling," says senior researcher Kirsimarja Raitasalo from THL.

According to studies examining alcohol consumption habits, the most common place for Finns to consume alcohol is at home.

"Problems related to substance use affect the home, which should be a safe place for a child to grow up. Our estimate does not include children whose parents have a substance abuse problem but have not sought treatment or whose problem has not been detected by social and health services," Raitasalo clarifies.

A severe substance abuse problem was found in only the mother for 2.1 percent of the children, only the father for 5.6 percent, and both parents for one percent.

The data is based on register information of all children born in Finland in 2002 and their biological parents up until 2020, the year this cohort reached adulthood.

"Considering all uncertainties, it can be said that this is a minimum estimate. In other words, the number of children whose parents have some degree of substance abuse problems is likely much higher," Raitasalo estimates.


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Carlos Gucci
Carlos Gucci
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