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Alcohol-related violent deaths in Finland up by "staggering" 30%

The typical perpetrators and victims involved in alcohol-related deaths are unemployed, middle-aged Finnish men, according to a researcher.

Pulloja ja tölkkejä kumollaan ruokapöydällä.
File photo of wine bottles and beer cans. Image: Tiia Korhonen / Yle

Violent deaths related to alcohol saw a significant increase in Finland last year, according to preliminary figures from the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy (Krimo).

Despite being ranked by the UN as the happiest country in the world for the second year in a row, residents in Finland are increasingly dying in alcohol-related violence. In 2018 booze-linked violent deaths increased by 25-30 percent compared to the year before.

Martti Lehti, a university researcher from Krimo, said that the number of women who died as a result of alcohol-related violence went down somewhat, but for men that number nearly doubled.

"The increase is staggering - more than 20 additional men died than during the previous year. In crime statistics this means an increase of more than 30 percent," Lehti said, noting the change cannot be attributed to normal annual fluctuations.

There were 91 alcohol-related violent deaths in Finland last year. In 2017 some 67 people died under similar circumstances. However, last year's tally may still be adjusted as it is a preliminary statistic, Lehti explained.

Middle-aged Finns

The perpetrators and victims involved in alcohol-related violence are typically native-born middle-aged, unemployed Finnish men who get drunk and then use kitchen knives to sort out arguments, according to Lehti.

The Krimo study found it was common that both perpetrators and victims in alcohol-related deaths were intoxicated with blood alcohol concentration levels of 2.0 promille (mg per ml of blood).

The rate of violence-related deaths have been on a decline in Finland for a number of years, and the reasons behind last year's spike of alcohol-related deaths - and a reported overall increase in violent incidents - are unknown.

Alcohol use has been linked to each the deaths themselves, but overall consumption of alcohol only rose by 0.6 percent last year. The increased drinking has been attributed to last year's reforms to alcohol laws that permitted stronger beer and alcopops to be sold in shops, which previously were only available from the state liquor monopoly Alko.

Alcohol link

"Although total alcohol consumption has increased moderately, consumption may have increased more in groups where the risk of violence is higher," Lehti said, but noted those factors need closer examination before any conclusions can be made.

Last year Krimo published a report about a study on the links between the availability of alcohol and the numbers of violent deaths from the beginning of the 1800s until the beginning of the 2000s.

The study found that the number of violent deaths always went up as alcohol consumption rates increased.

For example, violent death rates increased significantly when Finland slashed the alcohol tax in 2004.

The tax was cut by up to a third on spirits, in response to fears that Estonia's EU-membership would lead to unlimited quantities of cheap alcohol flowing into Finland.

The tax cut led to a 10 percent increase in alcohol consumption. A few years later government began to gradually raise alcohol taxes again.

A half a century ago, when grocery stores gained the right to sell beer and drinks containing a maximum 4.7 percent alcohol, consumption levels shot up by 40 percent.

The 10 percent

Olavi Kaukonen is operations manager at the A-Clinic Foundation, an NGO which works to prevent and treat substance abuse. He said that even minor overall increases of alcohol consumption is worrying, particularly for large-scale consumers of booze.

"Many big drinkers are dependent on alcohol and when availability significantly increases even more of their income goes toward buying more alcohol," he said, noting that the use of alcohol is particularly concentrated to a particular group in Finland.

Just 10 percent of Finland's population - around half a million people - drink about half of all the alcoholic beverages that are consumed.

"The [alcohol-related] violent deaths mostly affect one group of around 10,000 marginalised people with bleak prospects," he said.

He said this marginalised group has not received the attention they would need in recent times, even though the country has been discussing social and health care reforms for years.

Kaukonen said it would not be difficult to break the cycle of violence connected to alcohol abuse.

"It would go a long way by making it easier for people to get help for substance abuse problems and to increase funding for preventative work," he said.

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