Wine is the drink of sinners

When on Sunday I was dreaming of a glass of red under a fleece throw in the corner of the sofa at home, I hit a problem. I had no red wine at home and I didn’t manage to buy a bottle anywhere. I wanted to understand why this is so, and so I dived into the wonderful world of alcohol policy. Special Researcher Pia Mäkelä at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) writes in THL’s blog that ”the number of heavy users of alcohol increases as overall consumption grows.” She goes on to say that this happens because our drinking culture is collective. Although Mäkelä points out that only a few people suffer from the detrimental consequences of excessive consumption, her stance is still unwavering. In other words, even if I have my consumption completely under control, I am responsible for the drinking of others and problem users in particular. When I drink a glass more, you will also get a need to have one more. Great! Now I’ve got cause to pop open the Ruinart champagne sitting in my fridge.

The science journalist Jani Kaaro wrote in Helsingin Sanomat about how in Finland a shortage of trust creates a culture of regulation and fear, an unfortunate vicious circle that passes down from parents to their children and intensifies along the way like poisons in the environmental food cycle. If you study the statistics used as the basis of THL’s statements on alcohol policy, you can see that this culture of regulation and fear has established itself in a dangerous area. This is because, even at the data collection stage, the ethical guidelines of the research have been thrown in the bin and replaced with unstated value-based selection criteria. So there is no intention at all to present variables that affect the situation objectively, but instead mould the material to serve as evidence of there being only one solution.

THL’s Annual Report on Intoxicant Statistics 2012 (Päihdetilastollinen vuosikirja 2012) lists key indicators to do with intoxicants. There are many clear problems in the absence of many indicators, as well as with the ones that are presented. The consumption of alcohol is measured as an annual total of the consumption of pure alcohol in relation to the population size (in some cases, per number of inhabitants aged 15 or above). When the damage caused by alcohol use is tied into the statistical consumption of alcoholic drinks, arguments are presented on the basis of that, such as ”as a result of the reduction in the rate of tax on alcohol in 2004, alcohol deaths increased rapidly from 2004 to 2007” (The Annual Report on Intoxicant Statistics 2012, page 31). It is impossible to get an overall view of the real scale of the problem because the statistics talk about numbers of medical visits and the numbers of treatment periods instead of referring to a number of people involved. Clients for various services are listed but overlaps are not omitted. In addition to this, annual consumption is not divided up in any way in the report between problem consumption and other consumption.

According to theories, taking responsibility for one’s own life is one of the most significant factors that affects motivation and the ability to cope with stress (locus of control/Julian Rotter, self-efficacy/Albert Bandura). However, the line taken by THL – for all its supposed good intentions – does no favours to anyone. THL does not take a position on the responsibility of people with alcohol problems for their own consumption, because ”it is not the job of public authorities to say whether someone drinks too much or suitably”. Rights for problem users stack up from the point of view of society, when the responsibility for not only your own behaviour but that of problem users too is shifted onto moderate users because they create a ”wetter drinking culture”. In this way a culture of regulation and fear is successfully built up, in which no citizen can retain their freedom to control their own lives. The same problem can also easily be encountered – to mention a few areas – in employment legislation, education policy and income transfer policy.

And because moderate users are blamed collectively for the failings of a minority, I can’t buy my red wine on a Sunday from the supermarket. And because the line drawn between moderate and problem consumption is obviously too uncertain, the production, sale and consumption of alcohol should be completely banned by law so the no-one might suffer an accidental mishap, regardless of the choices they have made.