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What’s new about adolescent drinking in the Nordic countries?

Adolescent drinking was on the increase all through the 1970s, the 1980s, and well into the 1990s. Researchers, decision-makers, and the public alike viewed the development as problematic and troubling. Then, sometime around the turn of the millennium, adolescent drinking in the Nordic countries started to decline. Drinking is now less common among underage young people in all Nordic countries compared to the situation some 10 or 15 years ago. Some differences between the Nordic countries nevertheless persist. This report is based on an overview of the most recent Nordic research literature on adolescent drinking.

The declining trend in drinking has been particularly strong in the Nordic countries. The share of adolescents who have never drunk alcohol has increased markedly in all Nordic countries. Those adolescents who do drink alcohol drink smaller amounts and the number of drinking occasions has declined as well. Also, adolescents are older when they take their first drink and are intoxicated for the first time. There has also been a decline in other norm-breaking behaviour such as youth delinquency and truancy.

Youth drinking is nowadays least prevalent in Iceland and Norway, followed by Sweden and Finland. Denmark serves as the ‘Nordic exception’. It is the only Nordic country where adolescent drinking is above the European average. Still, adolescent drinking has also declined in Denmark, although less than in other Nordic countries.

But why should we be interested in how much adolescents drink? The main reason is that adolescent drinking is connected to many types of harm, such as negative somatic and mental health outcomes, risky behaviour (such as unwanted or unsafe sex), and also the risk for accidents, violence, and victimisation. Harm can occur as a direct consequence of drinking or more indirectly as a consequence of a lifestyle where drinking is one part (for example, as a heightened risk for alcohol problems in adulthood).

Studies that try to answer why young people drink less today than young people did 10 or 15 years ago should further look at the following questions: adolescents’ living conditions and habits, use of time, leisure activities, family backgrounds and conditions, interaction with parents and peers, and alcohol use patterns. Official alcohol policy and economic factors are likely to influence the development as well as are (social) media and advertising.

Adolescents who grow up today seem to value school and education. They want to perform well, and drink and smoke less. However, they also experience more stress, anxiety, and disrupted sleep. The apparently deteriorating mental health of adolescents, coinciding with declining alcohol use, has puzzled scholars. It clearly needs to be addressed in future studies. Some studies point at certain mental health symptoms in adolescence heightening the risk for alcohol problems in adulthood.


Les rapporten her

År: 2019 Utgiver: Nordic Welfare Centre Av: Eva Franzèn

Tilrettelagt av redaksjonen    Redaktør: Beate Steinkjer

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