Waking up with your head spinning with memory blanks to fill and regretting breaking in is an all too familiar Sunday morning ritual for many people in Finland. However, in recent years, a growing number of people across the country have made the choice to end remorseful mornings by drinking less or stopping alcohol altogether.
But how does it feel to give up alcohol when you’re surrounded by heavy-drinking Finns? Can you still go out and have a good time?
“I think alcohol is and always has been an exceptionally important substance for Finns. There’s even a phrase I’ve heard so many times abroad that someone drinks like a Finn, so I think that says a lot about the problem, “said Katri ylinen, co-founder of the sobercurious community Darravapaa (or without a hangover in English).
Heavy drinker nation
When it comes to alcohol consumption per capita per year, Finland barely makes it into the top 10. But there is a lot of drinking, which means that the times when locals choose to drink, they are there. often go full blast.
About half a million people in Finland drink well above the risk limit, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Almost 80 percent of alcohol consumption is classified as hazardous use, which occurs when the consumption limit is exceeded or when alcohol is consumed by at-risk users.
“From what I’ve observed, in traditional Finnish culture we don’t really have a concept of alcohol-free celebration and party. Or at least if we do, it’s very marginalized. And we love it. sing karaoke, but only after we’ve had a few drinks. And we love to take over the dance floor, but we have to get drunk […] we need some rohkaisuryypyt first, ”Ylinen explained.
Rohkaisuryypyt (translated as sips of encouragement) refers to the act of sipping alcohol in order to gain the courage to engage in activities such as singing karaoke or going on the dance floor.
However, after a few years of partying and “getting hammered every week,” Ylinen decided in her late twenties that her drinking habits had become “more fun.” The hangover and the emotional blues that followed were starting to take their toll.
“It was almost like culture shock learning to navigate my social life and my emotions without alcohol. Although I was born and raised in Finland, suddenly when I quit drinking alcohol, I felt like I was part of a very different culture. There it was like a real culture shock, “said Ylinen.
However, the process of overcoming personal demons and getting used to sobriety was only hampered by external factors such as bar menus. Ylinen suddenly found herself in the position of having to specifically ask staff about alcohol-free options. The 30-year-old said that even today staff are uncomfortable when asked about non-alcoholic drinks. Ylinen also said that she rarely receives recommendations and that the waiters always ask her if she has a specific drink in mind.
“You aren’t always as respected as a customer if you don’t drink alcohol in a Finnish bar,” Ylinen said, adding “maybe the staff think I’m not going to bring as much benefit because well, people who drink non-alcoholics generally don’t drink as fast or as much as customers who drink alcohol. “
Despite the challenges, Ylinen is not alone in her new, sober lifestyle. Researchers found that alcohol consumption among Finns has declined steadily since 2007. Almost one in three young adults in Finland said they do not drink alcohol at all, up from 16% in 2018 and 12% in 2016 , according to a 2020 survey conducted for the Finnish Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drink Industry.
Ylinen described the phenomenon as the result of a combination of factors – alcohol having lost its cool status, parents having stricter attitudes towards alcohol consumption, and young people having “better and more educated ways of being. rebel ”these days with the opportunities introduced by social media.
It’s also something that Ylinen’s support group is tackling, mainly via Instagram and Whatsapp. On his publications on social networks, Darravapaa will often remind his audience that people choose to stay alcohol-free for a variety of reasons beyond a cloudy past with the substance or pregnancy, Ylinen said.
green deputy Iiris Suomela said government policy has also played an important role in the steady decline in the popularity of alcohol. Finland’s alcohol laws are among the strictest in Europe, with a 9 p.m. shopping curfew and a ban in supermarkets from selling products with an alcohol content above 5.5%. Products with a volume exceeding 5.5 are only available in state-owned Alko stores.
“We have been quite successful in terms of policies. And of course an important thing is not to sell alcohol to people who look like minors or who could pass the product on to minors,” Suomela explained.
Suomela further underlined the important role played by the heavy taxation of alcohol.
Regarding current alcohol laws, Suomela said she was “happy with the current state of affairs”. According to the MP, any suggestion of liberalizing alcohol laws should be “carefully considered”, especially when it comes to the pressure the pandemic is exerting on people’s mental health.
“I think the only big failure in current policy making is that health and social services don’t always reach those who need them. I don’t think we should make it harder to get alcohol. in Finland, ”added Suomela.
Pass to the general public
But what should people drink instead? Suomela and Ylinen agree that it is high time that Finnish bars and restaurants cater to curious sober and restrained customers in the same way that the needs of vegetarian and vegan options have been integrated more and more into menus in recent years. .
“Also, I think it’s very important that the options are visibly available, because it lowers the threshold, and it puts you on a level playing field with other customers. I don’t know if it should be labeled. “non-alcoholic,” but of course, it’s much easier to spot non-alcoholic drinks on the menu if they’re clearly labeled, ”Ylinen said.
The sobercuriosity advocate said customer demand for more sophisticated alcohol-free products is increasing and companies should join us in offering a good selection of alcohol-free products.
“I think we should just normalize the idea that a customer who doesn’t drink alcohol is as valuable a customer as a drinker,” Ylinen said.
Workplaces and other organizations should be more inclusive by offering alcohol-free options at office parties, Suomela added.
“It is a matter of equality between people in different situations in their life. So it is important to consider that there might be a worker or other member of the group who needs this non-alcoholic option, just like vegetarians or vegans. “
Progress, according to Ylinen, is “slow, but it happens.”
Perhaps Finnish society as a whole is indeed starting to turn the page on its relationship to heavy drinking and skepticism of sobriety or moderation.
“I think slowly we are, maybe we’re getting rid of a little bit of the idea that a non-alcoholic person is like that boring, dry person. We’re not dry. We still like to drink, but not drink. ‘alcohol, “concluded the sober and curious influencer.