Alcohol consumption among young people falling, little gender difference

Alcoholic drinks.
Alcoholic drinks. Source: Vladimir Agafonkin/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Between 2003 and 2015, monthly alcohol consumption among young people fell in the Baltic States, as well as in Finland and Sweden. Young people in Lithuania now consume half as much alcohol as at the beginning of the century. While alcohol consumption among young people in all these countries studied has decreased, at times, the consumption levels are bigger among girls, according to a study by Estonian health researchers.

"The general message is that alcohol-related risk behavior is declining among young people across Europe," Daisy Kudre, who defended her master's thesis at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Tartu, says.

Together with co-authors Kersti Pärn and Inge Ringmets from the University of Tartu, and Sigrid Vorobjov from the Institute for Health Development, Kudre studied how the alcohol consumption among 15–16-year-olds in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden has changed over the years 2003-2015. In particular, she compared young people's responses to the question of whether they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.

Estonia and Lithuania are approaching Finland

"Overall, trends and patterns are similar everywhere, but there are still no differences between countries," Daisy Kudre said. As mentioned, alcohol consumption among young people decreased in all five countries studied. While in 2003, 60 percent of Estonian young people polled had been drinking alcohol during the preceding month, by 2015, only 36 percent of boys, and 39 percent of girls, had done so.

"At the same time, in 2003, almost 80 percent of young people in Lithuania had consumed alcohol in the preceding month, and in 2015, only 32 percent of boys and 36 percent of girls had consumed it, or about half as much," Kudre said.

In Estonia, alcohol consumption among young people decreased for the first time in 2003–2007, remained stable in 2007–2011 and decreased further by 2015. At the beginning of the century, young people in Finland and Sweden consumed clearly less alcohol than their peers in the Baltics, by 2015 the picture was almost equal, according to the researcher. "Sweden still has the lowest alcohol consumption, but Estonia and Lithuania have more or less reached the level of Finland," she noted.

Although data gathered later than 2015 was not yet available at the time of the research for the article, Kudre said that the state of 2019 is now well-known. "Data from 2019 confirm that the downward trend in 2003, 2011 and 2015 is indeed a trend and that alcohol consumption has decreased," she said. In Lithuania, there are even fewer young people consuming alcohol than in 2015.

Problem of girls and young people from more well-off families?

Daisy Kudre and her co-authors also looked at what factors are related to alcohol use. For example, she researched the perceived availability of alcohol for young people, or the answers to the question "How easy would it be for you to get alcohol if you wanted it?". "In all countries, more than 80 percent of young people say it is easy or rather easy," Kudre said.

Although the assessment of perceived availability of alcohol may also have been influenced by how easy it would be to obtain alcohol from friends and parents or to consume alcoholic beverages at home, the result was surprising to her.

Kudre also considered school-related factors. "People who have missed school lately are more likely to be regular drinkers," she said. Young people who had also used cannabis were also more likely to drink alcohol, she found.

From among family-related factors, Kudre was interested in the socio-economic background of the family in question. Previous studies have shown that children from families with both higher incomes, and sometimes from poorer backgrounds, were more likely to consume alcohol. "According to Estonian data, our study still showed that young people from families with a better economic background are more likely to drink alcohol," she said and added that this connection is valid in all the studied countries.

"Based on this theory, it has been found that young people living with one parent have a higher probability of alcohol use than young people living with two parents," Kudre said. She said that the connection came from the data of Finland and Sweden, but not from the data from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Children without any parents, however, were much less likely to drink alcohol than their peers who had both parents. Kudre said that there may be several reasons for this, from financial hardship to high levels of stress.

However, the researcher considers the peculiarities of the gender distribution of young people who drink alcohol to be the most important discovery of her work. So far, more boys have consumed alcohol among young people, and boys' alcohol consumption is also even higher on average in Europe. "At the same time, the gender gap is narrowing," Kudre said. "It turned out from my work that in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland, girls' alcohol consumption is at the same level or slightly higher than that of boys. In Sweden, girls are already consuming more alcohol than boys.

She said that this need not mean that girls' alcohol consumption is on the rise, however. "Alcohol consumption is declining for both girls and boys, but it is declining less for girls than for boys," she said,

Kudre suggests that change may be related to changes in women's role in society and self-definition. "The world's specialty literature has found that, unlike adult women, girls don't think that the consumption of alcohol changes their identity. Alcohol use is no longer associated primarily with men," she said, pointing out that girls have the same severity of use of alcohol as boys.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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