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Stream of Consciousness: Drinking in Finland and Why Binge Drinking is Better for You

Mr Vaughn Bell over at Mind Hacks recently linked to a study from Finland about the correlation between "extreme drinking occasions" and proximity of the drinker's home to a bar. The study found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the closer one lived to a bar, the more frequent and heavier the extreme drinking occasions.

What caught my attention was that the study was conducted in Finland. Close listeners of SYSK with long memories will remember that somewhere in the three-podcast suite on addiction and recovery (I can't remember if it's in the one on addiction, the one on rehab or the one on Prohibition), the Finns came up as an example of a binge drinking society. America and the UK are both examples of societies that engage in daily drinking patterns, where alcohol is consumed more frequently but (allegedly) in lesser quantities than in societies that engage in the binge drinking pattern. In places like Finland, alcohol is consumed in heavy, prolonged bouts that produce a type of drunkenness that prevents one from standing well or being able to open both eyes at once or see (i.e., blind, stinking drunk; lost weekend). Daily drinking in the country is rare enough that the Finnish government, unlike most other governments that produce recommendations on alcohol intake, doesn't include daily limits in its alcohol consumption guidelines. Instead they suggest only weekly amounts: Women shouldn't have more than 10 drinks a week and men no more than 15. Considering that a Finn may binge once a week, that's a lot of booze to take down in one sitting.

What is probably scariest about this is that findings suggest the Finns are the ones who know what they're doing. A 2009 study found that daily drinking was by far a greater indicator of liver disease than binge drinking. In the study, 71 percent of those with alcohol-related liver diseases like cirrhosis were daily drinkers, while only 8 percent with liver problems were binge drinkers. Even the British Liver Trust suggests binge drinking over daily drinking. In a 2012 article on Janopause, a trend in the UK of taking the entire month of January off from drinking in order to cleanse the system and restore it to a better state, a spokesperson for the group called the detox method "medically futile":

"A one-hit, one-month attempt to achieve long-term liver health is not the way to approach it. You're better off making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only."

Words to consider.

Here's a PSA on the dangers of drinking and driving (or possibly angel dust?) from the 1980s made for Finnish TV and banned for some reason:

And lastly here's a far better one from 2004, after alcohol-related deaths became the number one cause of death in the country after the Finnish government reduced the tax it levied on alcohol:

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