Slovenes consume alcohol very frequently, on a daily basis, and regardless of the opportunity. Alcohol consumption is widely accepted in Slovene society unless there are obvious severe consequences for the health of an individual and society such as fatal road accidents, domestic violence and accidents at work.

This project brought together over 600 expert representatives of different fields, who are regularly faced with problems related to excessive drinking in Slovene society. We are aware that each one of us can help tackle this problem as a member of society. We can accomplish most if we tackle this issue systematically and comprehensively – all members of society together.

Nobody drinks to become addicted and nobody becomes addicted to alcohol overnight. We are aware that issues related to excessive drinking are usually recognised only when they are present to such an extent that they influence the health of an individual and society and when stopping or reducing drinking presents a big effort for an individual. The latest, ground-breaking research shows that there is no safe zone and that any kind of alcohol consumption presents a certain risk level and negative consequences for the health of an individual and society as a whole. Being aware of our responsibilities, we wish to share these latest findings with you. Alcohol consumption is not a sign of a healthy lifestyle, even if it is consumed in small quantities. We should therefore be able to access all known and necessary information to decide in a given situation whether alcohol consumption really is a good choice that supports our health when we want to relax, when we experience stress and other daily problems or when we just wish to socialize.

The basic idea behind SOPA is to draw attention and raise the question about our drinking habits. Do we drink too much alcohol, which damages our health, even if our society accepts and in certain situations even encourages it?

We wish to provide all necessary information about the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption to all members of the society.

The aim of the SOPA project was to raise awareness. If it turned out that someone was living an unhealthy lifestyle, detrimental to their health, they could reduce their alcohol consumption or inform one of the relatives. They could get in contact with an expert to find suitable ways to reduce or quit excessive drinking and instead make healthy decisions. These decisions are related to health care, spending time in nature, hanging out with relatives and friends, relaxing and dealing with stress and personal issues. We could thus avoid the damaging consequences of excessive drinking for ourselves and others and improve personal health and contribute to a healthy society, to a healthier attitude to ourselves and to better interpersonal, especially family relations.

Come, let us walk the SOPA path together. Everyone can contribute to establish a responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption in society. The following pages present ways of doing so.

Head of the SOPA Project – Together for a responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption, Tadeja Hočevar

The SOPA project was supported by the Slovene Ministry of Health

Harmful alcohol consumption is one of the main preventable factors of chronic diseases, injuries, accidents, violence, murders and suicides. Worldwide, alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of morbidity, reduced ability, disability and mortality. In Slovenia, 40% of surveyed children (15-year-olds) said they first drank alcohol before they were 13, half of adolescents were drunk at least twice before turning 17. Therefore, it is not surprising that 43% of adult Slovenes (aged 25 to 64) drink alcohol in a highly dangerous way. The consequences for the common health and well-being as well as financial damage are severe. Harmful alcohol consumption costs the Slovene healthcare system 153 million euros annually on average.

The extent and consequences of alcohol consumption are unevenly distributed amongst different regions and socio-economic strata in Slovenia and Europe. Compared to the Western part of the country, Eastern Slovenia shows a 1.7 times higher mortality risk and a higher percentage of premature deaths due to alcohol-related causes. The consequences of hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption are more common amongst less educated citizens and people from a weaker socio-economic position.

Slovenia lacks a comprehensive strategy to effectively address hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption. The WHO alerted us in 2016 that Slovenia is still one of those countries that are not active enough in limiting advertising, raising prices and limiting the availability of alcoholic beverages. To take action in these fields proved to be most cost-efficient. Less efficient but very effective measures are quick interventions that can be carried out by different profiles in the healthcare and social services. It is most effective amongst people who are not yet addicted to alcohol but drink in a way that presents a risk to their health and well-being and that of their families, relatives and others.

The Slovene Ministry of Health managed to obtain 6 million euros of European funds for the SOPA project via operational implementation of the European cohesion policy for 2014–2020. In this way, we managed to create a network of Slovene healthcare and social institutions that will address the alcohol consumption issue both on an individual and community level.

We invited all key parties from the fields of healthcare, the police, social welfare and road safety as well as representatives of the employment services and local communities to join the project. Alcohol misuse does not only cause health problems and material damage due to accidents and alcohol-related vandalism, but also affects the social inclusion, employability and prosperity of an individual and the productivity of society. To effectively monitor and guide the project, the Slovene Ministry of Health appointed a so called Guidance Commission which includes prominent experts and decision-makers in this field.

I am certain that using these working methods, the SOPA project also led the way to the successful establishment of a comprehensive approach on a national level. In the future, it can be applied to other areas of public health, especially to chronic non-communicable diseases and other related risk factors.

Vesna Kerstin Petrič, dr. med., Head of Health promotion and chronic non-communicable diseases and conditions control sector at the Slovene Ministry of Health.