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Survey suggests young adults drinking less than ever before

Booze is less popular among youngsters. 

Nuoret viettävät juhannusta Helsingin Sompasaaressa.
You can have fun without alcohol, but celebrations like Midsummer are still celebrated with alcohol. That's what Milla Nurmi, Eeva Jylhä-Ollila, Sofia Erman, Karoliina Hiittu, Sanni Jussila and Sini Westerberg at Helsinki's Sompasaari sauna on Saturday. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Young adults have radically reduced their alcohol consumption. Almost one in three young adults in Finland says they don't drink alcohol at all, according to a new survey conducted for the Finnish Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks industry.

In 2016 the same survey found just 12 percent of 18-24-year-olds said they were teetotal. In 2018 that number had risen to 16 percent.

In the 2020 edition of the survey, some 29 percent of respondents said they never touched a drop.

The frequency of alcohol consumption has also reduced. Only 12 percent of respondents said they drank every week, compared to 20 percent two years ago.

Research was conducted during the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, which may have affected the results.

There were 1,502 respondents aged 18-70 to an online questionnaire, with the sample balanced by gender, age and geographical location.

Of that sample, 74 of the respondents were aged between 18 and 24.

Alcohol consumption declined compared to the 2018 results in every age group except the 45-54 cohort.

Uusimaa showed the biggest drop in weekly consumption, of some ten percentage points. Riikka Pakarinen of the federation says that this shows Finns' alcohol consumption habits have become more European.

"This is a positive development and it shows the big picture of changes in Finns' alcohol consumption," said Pakarinen. "I would hope that this would influence the legislation, so that we could have a broader conversation about the sector, not just focused on health concerns."

The survey's findings are backed up by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), whose own figures suggest total consumption fell 3.9 percent last year.

Even so, THL researcher Kirsimarja Raitasalo says she suspects the results might not reflect the full picture.

"There are indications that young adults and underage youth have reduced alcohol consumption somewhat, but it doesn't look like any dramatic change has happened," said Raitasalo.

Raitasalo says that research suggests less than 20 percent of young adults are teetotal, and that their drinking habits are similar to those of other age groups.

"When there have been changes in alcohol policy, to which the population's drinking habits have adjusted, it has gone pretty much in line with other age groups," said Raitasalo.

Young drink less, but a third of ninth-graders still drink

Over the last two decades there has been an increase in sobriety among the young, however.

Drinking habits are healthier than before: they don't drink to get intoxicated as much and they drink less in one go, according to Raitasalo.

There's been a similar development in many other countries, including the Nordics, Australia and the United States.

Some young people continue as teetotallers, while others start drinking when they turn 18.

"Adults then drink in the same way as before," says Raitasalo.

There are a number of reasons.

"At least in Finland analysis has shown that reducing access to alcohol is one of the central factors. There are many ways to do that. For example in grocery stores staff are stricter. It's more difficult for young people to buy alcohol," notes Raitasalo.

Parents' attitudes have hardened. They buy less alcohol for children than they used to, and don't offer it as often at the table.

Many underage drinkers source their booze from friends, but when fewer contemporaries are drinking, that also becomes more difficult.

There are other explanations: children and parents have a more equal relationship these days. They no longer feel such a need to rebel. And on the other hand parents have a better idea of what their kids are doing and where they are going.

Children are also more familiar with the risks, but the shift towards sobriety is slowing down according to Raitasalo. There has been a slight increase in girls drinking to get drunk, for instance.

"It's good to remember that although there has been a long-term positive trend, a third of ninth-graders still use alcohol," says Raitasalo. "That is a big proportion. This has not gone away."

Raitasalo says that research shows some 5-6 percent of youngsters get alcohol from their parents.

The federation's survey suggests that some 91 percent of 18-24-year-olds thought it was pretty common for underage children to buy alcohol. On the other hand the vast majority of respondents in this cohort (87 percent) said they had never bought alcohol for minors.

On the other hand one in four 25-44-year-old respondents told researchers they had purchased alcohol for children.

Of the underage respondents, nearly half said that an adult had at some point purchased alcohol for them.

Of the 15-17-year-olds, more than one in three said their parents had let them have a taste of alcoholic drinks.

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