Finnish drinking habits

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In this blog post, we discuss Finnish drinking habits. We take this topic up now because we are fast approaching the Christmas party season. That season usually involves alcohol irrespective of whether those parties occur in Finland. 

Finns do, however, have a reputation for being heavy drinkers as we have discussed before. Then, we compared alcohol consumption in Finland to consumption elsewhere and discussed whether that reputation is earned. 

This blog post takes a more nuanced look at Finnish alcohol consumption. We examine the situations in which Finns drink. 

This blog post is based on a recently published study by Tomi Lintonen, Pekka Kumpulainen, Janne Härkönen, and Pia Mäkelä.

Want to know more about Finland, Finns, and finnishness? Get the “Your Crash Course to Finland” online course now from our online store.

Background to the study

Lintonen, Kumpulainen, Härkönen, and Mäkelä point out that alcohol consumption in Finland varies significantly between different demographic groups. 

Finnish men die more often than Finnish women from alcohol-related causes. They also get alcohol-related illnesses more than women. The same is true for middle-aged Finns compared to younger Finns. Those with lower education and income levels are also more likely to do so than those better off financially or better educated. 

Some of these differences relate to differences in the share quantities of alcohol consumed. Others are related to the way they drink (on fewer occasions but more at a time). 

They point out, however, that in order to effectively reduce drinking and the health effects stemming from that we need to understand why people drink. We also need to understand what is the purpose or meaning of drinking in different demographic groups.

They suggest that understanding these differences allows public health officials to create more targeted and thus more effective public health messaging to prevent alcohol-related illnesses and deaths. 

So, they analyzed the drinking habits of a statistically representative sample of Finns. They collected data on their demographic characteristics, the amount these people drank, and also on the situations in which they drank. Of the situation, they recorded such information as:

  • the location: home, bar, someone else’s home, etc.;
  • the nature of the drinking event: with a meal, special occasion, visit by some, after sauna, etc.;
  • the companion(s): alone, with a spouse, larger group of friends, etc.;
  • weekday; and
  • time of day. 

After extensive statistical analyses, they discovered eight distinct drinking event clusters than describe Finnish drinking habits. These drinking events, however, are differently associated with different demographic groups.  

Finnish drinking habits

The study again confirms what we talked about before., Namely, Finns drink at home alone or together with family or friends. This is not heavy drinking in contrast with the stereotype of Finnish drinking habits. These types of events account for 70 % of all drinking events within a year. 

Looking at all the identified drinking events, this study reveals that 36 % of those times when Finnish consume alcohol in a year take place at home with the family. This means consuming small amounts of alcohol on a weekend evening with a spouse. This consumption is often associated with the sauna. 

18 % of annual alcohol consumption in Finland happens alone at home. This means Finns drinking a small amount of alcohol in the evening.

Nearly as much (17 %) of that consumption happens at home on a weekend evening with friends and extended family. Again, this doesn’t involve large quantities of alcohol. 

8 % of all consumption takes place in the evening outside the home with a large group of friends. 

Partying, big groups of friends moving from one establishment to another on a weekend night drinking large amounts of alcohol, accounts for 7 % of annual consumption events.

6 % happens in same-sex groups at home on a weekend night. 

5 %  of the annual consumption events involves groups of friends of the same sex outside homes. 

4 % is consumption that occurs abroad on a family trip. This consumption involves drinking alcohol during a meal most often at a restaurant. 

Demographic differences

This study reveals that there are significant differences in how common these 8 drinking events are in different demographic groups. 

For example, drinking alone at home is more common for men (23 % of annual drinking events) than for women (8 %). Women (13 %), instead, more often than men (6 %) drink outside the home together with friends. 

Partying is clearly something young people (aged 15-29) do. 25 % of their annual drinking events consist of partying. In contrast, only 6 % of annual consumption events of 30-59 year-olds fall into this category. Their annual consumption events, instead, more often (36 %) involve drinking small amounts of alcohol after a sauna together with a spouse.

Those who are married or have a partner most often drink at home with their spouse (49 % of annual drinking events). Those who are divorced or widowed tend to drink alone at home (47 % of annual drinking events). Single people instead consume alcohol in various different drinking events.

In general, those in a higher socio-economic position tend to drink out with friends more than those in a lower position.   

Above we mentioned that men tend to consume alcohol more often alone at home than women. This is true even if we look at other demographic factors as well. For example, divorced men tend to drink at home alone. Divorced women, instead, drink at home with family or together with friends outside the home. This difference applies to lower-income men and women, and briefly unemployed men and women as well. 

Problematic drinking habits

Drinking can be problematic in two ways. First, one’s overall alcoholic consumption can be high (drinking a few portions at a time but too often). Second, one can drink too much at a time but not drink that often. 

These two different types tend to result in different types of health problems. The former is associated with long-term or chronic health problems. The latter more with accidents. 

This analysis shows that most of the chronic health problems alcohol causes in Finnish society actually stem from rather mundane consumption events. Drinking at home together with friends and family. Examined individually, these events don’t represent risky behavior. After all, the amount of alcohol consumed in a single event might not be very high. They become risky when repeated too often. Over time, then, the amount of alcohol consumed rises to the level of causing health repercussions.  

It also shows that demographic factors influence the type of drinking events that are related to these two different types of problematic drinking. For example, those who drink too much at a time do it out with friends partying when they are young but at home alone or with others when they are older. 

The gender of the drinker also plays a role. Women are more likely to drink too much at a time when they are out with friends partying. Men who drink too much at a time tend to do it at home alone. 

Christmas parties belong to the event category that represents 7 % of drinking events in Finland where blood alcohol levels tend to be quite high. This is the type of drinking that might have immediate health effects… So, have fun but be careful out there! 

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Minna
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