Why do Finns drink so much?

Making of moonshine in the deep forsests of Kangasniemi. Dahlberg, photographer 1922, Keski-Suomen museo

The use of substances has always been a part of the Finnish culture. Production of moonshine has long traditions in Finland and during the war, soldiers were offered drugs in order to avoid exhaustion in unbearable circumstances. During the same time, pharmacies sold prescription free medicines enhanced with cocaine and heroin (Kemiallisia unelmia. 2017). Drugs enhanced stamina, but in order to endure the horrors of war, the soldiers tried to alleviate the anxiety mainly by drinking (Niemi. 2015).

After the war, thousands of traumatized men returned from the battlefront. During that time, psychological symptoms and war neurosis were considered to be caused by the individual itself, not the experiences the individual had had to bear. The treatment available was quite primitive. It consisted mainly of rest and firm talks, given by the female nurses in order to appeal to the patient’s manly hood. In severe cases, the soldiers might be treated with electric shocks or insulin treatment, where the patient would fall into coma and then be resuscitated with sugar liquid (Trötsckes. 2012). We often joke about Finnish men not being able to talk or express emotions, but it would be good to acknowledge, that our society has supported the image of a silent, strong man, that keeps his feelings to himself, for a very long time.

A patient and a nurse in a Finnish hospital, 1939-1940, Museovirasto-Musketti

The men also brought their traumas home with them. Some men had difficulties embracing the role of a father, since the gap between the generations was so big. At home, mental issues appeared as exaggerated emotional control, apathy, unpredictable fits of rage, incapability of feeling joy as well as alcoholism. Some women and children experienced war anxiety and had psychical symptoms. Poverty and the worry about the men required, that the women had to step up and show strength. Children were protected by not revealing own emotions of fear and by sending them to other, often unfamiliar, families when the situation was dire. Many war children felt unsafe and lost their ability to play. However, during that time period it was accustomed to think, that there is always someone who’s worse off, so personal experiences were downplayed (Trötsckes. 2012).

The traumas of our grandparents were inherited by our parents and I believe, they are still present in our society today. Generation after generation is taught to be strong, not to express emotions, not to complain and to make it on their own. Is it a wonder, that we rely on alcohol in order to let go and express emotions, like happiness, freely? Or try to smother emotions like sadness or anxiety, instead of talking about them? Finnish “sisu” is something many Finns are proud of; resilient, relentless willpower, enduring harsh circumstances and overcoming obstacles. There is nothing wrong with being resilient, but overemphasizing the demand to “just try harder, so that you’ll make it” is a part of the problem. We need a culture, that emphasizes talking, expressing emotions, showing and receiving compassion and support, so that we wouldn’t have to use alcohol in order to do this.

I see a change happening. The public sector is constantly developing their social and health care services. In many municipalities, mental health services and services for substance abusers are working together in order to prevent mental health issues and addiction as well as provide care (Mielenterveyspalvelut. N.D). The third sector provides services for specific client groups and needs. The youth doesn’t drink as much as before, they are more expressive and aware of their emotions and needs. The solidarity of taking a stand in common issues, such as bullying, racism or the climate change, is emphasized. We’re definitely on the right track, now we just shouldn’t lose our way.


Kemiallisia unelmia. 2017. Yle Areena: Huume-Suomen historia, Jakso 1. Accessed 14.10.2019. https://areena.yle.fi/1-3781390

Mielenterveyspalvelut. No date. Valtioneuvosto ja ministeriöt. Accessed 14.10.2019. https://stm.fi/mielenterveyspalvelut

Moonshine by country. 2019. Wikipedia. Accessed 14.10.2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonshine_by_country#Finland

Niemi Marko. 2015. Kenraali Ehrnrooth ja Natsi-Saksan ihmepilleri. Accessed 4.10.2019. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2015/08/21/kenraali-ehrnrooth-ja-natsi-saksan-ihmepilleri

Trötsckes Rita. 2012. Sotatraumat. Accessed 4.10.2019. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2012/11/12/sotatraumat

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2 ajatusta aiheesta “Why do Finns drink so much?”

  1. I’m always looking for new persectives in my life. You succeeded to create a new one to me! This could be an actual thing that Finns are viewed as silent and grumpy, because thats’s the way our parents and their parents etc. might have been in the past. Our behaviour mostly comes from our parents behaviour. Thank you, Cecilia. Great post!

    1. Thank you! I also enjoy discovering new points of views in life. Our recent history is quite different from e.g. other Nordic countries and I think it can be seen in cultural comparison. Sweds are often described as being joyful and outgoing people, quite the opposite of Finns, but they are not carrying the burden of war as Finns do. The trauma caused by the war wasn’t dealt with and therefore past on to the next generations. However, the times are different now and we’re able and have the opportunity to explore other ways to connect with ourselves and others as well as rase our children. So maybe in a generation or two, the stereotype of Finns being silent and grumpy has passed and we can be seen as joyful and outgoing as the Sweds 😉