Young people who live alcohol-free feel best, according to a brand new Swedish study. Since 2000, the proportion of youth who consume alcohol in grade 9 has decreased substantially from 81 to 42%. A new C.A.N. study reveals results showing a clear improvement for the social and mental well-being of the group of young people who live free from alcohol. The group was previously in the minority and felt worse in various ways, but now they feel best…

Today’s young people are historic,” says Jonas Raninen of the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN).

There have never been so few who consume alcohol and those who do have never consumed as little alcohol as they do now. Despite much research in recent years, the reason for the reduced alcohol use is unexplained.”

Jonas Raninen, researcher, CAN

Clear benefits for mental and social health

The first longitudinal study on adolescent alcohol use that illustrates the effects of the dramatic change of the 21st century. The so-called Futura01 study is linked to the Karolinska Institute and follows a large group of young people who were born in 2001 and who went to grade 9 in high school when a majority of peers did not consume any alcohol. The main purpose of the study is to map and investigate how the decline in alcohol use and the increasing alcohol-free lifestyle affects their lives.

Alcohol-Free Majority
Since 2000, the proportion of youth who stay alcohol-free in grade 9 has increased substantially from 19 to 58%.

In the comparison between those who consumed alcohol and those who did not use any alcohol in grade 9, two overall results emerged.

  1. The group of young people who consume alcohol reports more problems; for example it is more common for them to drop out and commit crimes.
  2. 9th graders who lived alcohol-free had better self-rated health, fewer psychosomatic problems, better academic results and higher scores on a scale that measures pro-social behavior – all compared to the group who consumed alcohol.

In previous studies, alcohol-free adolescents had been found to have poorer social contacts and more psychosocial problems. As explanation researchers pointed out that alcohol-free young people lacked access to the social arenas that the majority of young people had access to.

When we now compared those in grade 9 who consume alcohol with those who do not, we saw that alcohol-free youth feel better, have better school well-being, better school performance and they are also happier with their social relationships,” says Mr. Raninen.

Jonas Raninen, researcher, CAN

Trend towards alcohol-free youth generation

Already in November 2019 Movendi International reported about a CAN study that illustrated the trend towards an alcohol-free youth generation.

Over the last 20 years the number of youth in Sweden who use alcohol, cannabis or other drugs before the age of 14 has dropped significantly. In total, the proportion of students in grade 9 who used snuff, cigarettes, alcohol or cannabis before the age of 14 dropped from 63% in 1999 to 18% in 2019. 

This decline illustrates the global trend depicted in Finland, Australia and the US for more and more youth to stay alcohol-free longer and longer.

More about the CAN report

This report describes a new study, Futura01, which will follow a large group of young people in Sweden. Most were born in 2001 and all went to grade 9 when the study began in 2017. The main purpose of the study is to investigate how alcohol habits develop for these young people and whether their alcohol consumption status in grade 9 affects how they do later in life. The report describes how the study’s baseline measurement was carried out, and presents the first results.

Of the 500 schools in the sample, 343 conducted the survey and sent the questionnaires back to the researchers. This corresponds to a participation rate of 68.6% at the school level. The response rate at the individual level is 82.3% (n = 5576).

In 2019, the young people in the study were followed up for the first time. A questionnaire was mailed to their home address and they could then choose to answer the questionnaire on paper and send it back or go online and answer the questionnaire digitally instead. Just over 4,000 answered the survey, which corresponds to about 75% of those who participated in the first survey. The second follow-up is planned for 2022.

Significance of the study

There are few longitudinal studies on how alcohol use during adolescence affects how people consume alcohol later in life (McCambridge, McAlaney, & Rowe, 2011) and there is little knowledge about how important this is in a life cycle perspective. The few studies that exist are from periods when most young people consumed alcohol and the question is how relevant they are now, when there have been such sharp reductions in youth alcohol use.

Download the report

The report can be downloaded here (PDF, Swedish).

For further reading

Sweden: Alcohol Use at All Time Low

Source Website: CAN