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For most problem drinkers, the most feasible, and also the most pleasant, way of getting their life back on tracks is to moderate their drinking, says Mikko Salasuo from the Finnish Youth Research Society.People who misuse alcohol can learn to drink in moderation, argue numerous experts interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat after the Finnish actor Puntti Valtonen told the newspaper he had overcome his alcohol problem by limiting himself to a drink or two these days.

For the majority of problem drinkers, the most feasible, and also the most pleasant, way of getting their life back on tracks is to moderate their drinking, says Mikko Salasuo from the Finnish Youth Research Society.

"But the person still has to want to turn things around. Things won't change if you go to the bar every evening and then wonder why cutting back is not working."

He claims that the notion that total abstinence is the only treatment for alcohol addiction, an idea originating from the ideology of the AA movement, is outdated in light of the current knowledge.

"It is an unsound generalisation to say that becoming teetotal is the only way to treat alcohol addiction. Personally, I believe it's the only way for a minority of people."

Kaarlo Simojoki, the medical director of the A-clinic alcohol addiction service, confirms that studies have shown that 60 to 80 per cent of problem drinkers can get their drinking under control with willpower and help from friends and family.

He says there are people who need medication as a treatment for problem drinking, being unable to achieve a change under their own steam.

"But even in these cases the goal is moderate drinking rather than total abstinence."

According to him, a third group of alcoholics constitutes problem drinkers who will not be able to limit their drinking even with the help of medicines, but need to aim at giving up alcohol altogether.

Simojoki does not know the details of Valtonen's case, but has given it some thought after reading the interview, commenting on Twitter that everyone's story and route to rehabilitation is different.

Experts hold differing opinions on how well cutting back on alcohol works for heavy drinkers whose drinking has developed into an addiction.

No way back

Myllyhoitoyhdistys, an addiction treatment organisation employing the Minnesota model, takes an unambiguous standpoint on the matter, says Raila Taipale, director at the organisation.

"Once people have developed an addiction there is no going back to moderation. People may entertain an idea that they can start using alcohol in limited amounts and this may even work out to begin with. But the addiction has changed the brain structures and processes permanently so that the addiction will rear its ugly head again," explains Taipale.

Simojoki does not deny the existence of permanent neurological changes brought on by addiction.

"If an addiction has developed, it will never totally disappear. It leaves a permanent mark, but it is possible to keep the addiction under control. The question is how severe is the problem and whether it can be managed with psychosocial support and rehabilitation, which are the be all and end all of all forms of treatment. If this can be done, then drinking in moderation is a feasible goal."

Simojoki, however, stresses that if the addiction is severe learning to drink in a controlled manner is difficult, with even milder cases of addiction carrying a risk of relapse.

"Addiction doesn't always mean that social drinking is out of the question, but it's good to consider whether it's worth taking the risk."

Iisakki Härmä – HS
Niina Woolley – HS
Lehtikuva / Pekka Sakki

Finland in the world press

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