To kick things off with this blog I have collected some information about substance use and abuse in Finland. As I wasn´t that familiar with the subject myself I felt that it might be useful to start from the basics before getting deeper into other issues surrounding this topic.
What is substance abuse?
According to the World Health Organization “Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.” Misuse of prescription medicine and mixing two or more substances are also common alongside with the excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse can lead to many problems, both short and long term in life.
How does it occur in Finland and what are the most commonly used substances?
The most used substance in Finland is alcohol, nine out of ten adults use it. Mostly they are moderate users, but about fifth out of working population the alcohol consumption is so substantial that it is likely to affect their ability to work. The total alcohol consumption in Finland has decreased within the last decade even though it has been mostly increasing since the 1960´s.
Over the last decade the use of all of the major illegal substances has increased. The most commonly used drug is cannabis. The use of for example cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy is mainly concentrated among people aged 15-34. Generally, drug use is more common among men than women.
When looking at the drug treatment clients in Finland it is not the most commonly used substances that cause the most trouble to the clients or makes them seek help. Even though alcohol is the most often used substance and cannabis the most commonly used drug, opioids are more often mentioned as the “problem drugs”.
Effects of substance abuse
Substance abuse can do a lot of harm and damage to the user. According to THL within the recent years the negative impact that it also has on the people close to the user and to the society has been more acknowledged.
Excessive use of alcohol has many negative effects on a person´s health and relationships. Even one evening of intoxication can lead to accidents, violence or other unwanted consequences. Typical social problems caused by immoderate use of alcohol are conflicts in personal relationships, decreased functional capacity and ability to work. Long term use can also cause health problems, issues with mental health and addiction.
The impact of drug use consists on the method of using (inhaling, injecting, etc.), both short- and long-term effects of the drug itself as well as the subculture of the users. The risk of both physical and psychological addiction varies a lot depending on the drug(s) used. Many narcotics cause mental health problems, psychotic symptoms as well as anxiety- and panic disorders. Some can affect person´s overall physical health, cause loss of sleep and weight loss. Using drugs intravenously can expose the user to dermatitis and vasculitis as well as myocarditis and more serious infections that are transmitted through blood (e.g. HIV, hepatitis). As well as causing physical addiction the user can also develop a social dependency on the other people who use as well. Relationships can suffer and due to the need to get more drugs the person can end up with a lot of debt and having to commit crimes to fund the lifestyle.
The misuse of prescription medicine is not always done on purpose. Taking unnecessary antibiotics, excessive use of painkillers along with continued use of sleeping pills and can be counted into this category. Actual abuse of pharmaceuticals means the more or less intentional use of the medicines in a way that the user becomes intoxicated. People abusing pharmaceuticals have a high risk of accidental death and quite often they mix other substances with the medicine.
Using different substances at the same time increases the risk of accidents and mortality. For example, the combined use of alcohol and medicine can cause memory loss, behavioral disorders and even violent behavior. Combined use damages the internal organs, especially the liver and can cause permanent damage. Over half of the clients in the services related to substance abuse reported using two or more substances at the same time.
So when looking at the statistics on substance abuse it is clear to see that while the alcohol consumption in Finland has decreased, the use of illegal drugs has increased. Do these changes have something to do with each other or are they separate issues? How can we as professionals help prevent excessive use when it comes to either legal or illegal substances? And when it is too late to prevent the problem how can we contribute to rehabilitation and healing? Between the already existing problematic Finnish drinking culture and the emerging new drugs it is apparent that there is an endless amount of work to be done in the field.