89,000 children in Finland have a biological parent with a serious substance abuse problem

Publication date 28.5.2024 7.30 | Published in English on 28.5.2024 at 9.33
Press release

There are 89,000 underage persons in Finland whose one biological parent or both parents have a serious substance abuse problem at some point before the child's adulthood. This represents 8.7% of all children. 42,000 children have a biological parent who currently has a serious substance abuse problem. Substance abuse is more common among fathers than mothers. This is shown by a register study carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

The majority of register entries related to substance abuse problems, 60%, are related to alcohol consumption alone. The rest concern both drug use or the mixed use of both alcohol and drugs. Register entries related to substance abuse problems include, among others, a primary or secondary diagnosis related to the problematic use of alcohol or drugs, institutional treatment of substance abuse, or intoxicants as a cause of death.

The number of underage persons affected was last assessed in 2015. However, at the time, it was not assessed separately whether the parent had previously had a substance abuse problem in their life or if the substance abuse problem was still ongoing. In 2015, it was estimated that there were 65,000–70,000 children in Finland of whose parents one or both had a serious substance abuse problem during the child’s life before adulthood.

"The number of children affected by parents' serious substance abuse problems is unfortunately high. However, the total consumption of alcohol has been decreasing in Finland for over a decade now. This considered, the proportion of children whose family have suffered from substance abuse problems during childhood and youth is even more striking," says Senior Researcher Kirsimarja Raitasalo from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

According to studies on alcohol consumption habits, the most common place where people in Finland use alcohol is their own home.

"The problems related to substance abuse are reflected at home, which should be a safe place for a child to grow up. Our calculations do not include children whose parents have some kind of a substance abuse problem, but for one reason or another they have not ended up receiving treatment for their problem, or the social welfare and healthcare services are not aware of the problem,” Raitasalo explains.

Of the biological parents, only 2.1% had a serious substance abuse problem. In 5.6% of the cases, only the father had the problem, and in 1%, both parents had it.

The data is based on the register data of all children born in Finland in 2002 and their biological parents until 2020, i.e. the year when the age group in question reached adulthood.

"With all elements of uncertainty factored in, it can be said that this is a minimum estimate. In other words, the number of children whose parents have some degree of a substance abuse problem is likely to be considerably higher," Raitasalo estimates. 

More information:

Research: How common are substance abuse problems in families? (in Finnish)

Kirsimarja Raitasalo
Senior Researcher
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
tel. +358 29 524 7005
[email protected]

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