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.

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 a major preventable factor contributing to chronic diseases, injuries, accidents, violence, murders, and suicides. Globally, it is a leading cause of morbidity, disability, and mortality. In Slovenia, 40% of surveyed children (15-year-olds) reported drinking alcohol before the age 13, and half of adolescents were drunk at least twice before turning 17. Consequently, 55% of adult Slovenes (aged 18 to 74) consume alcohol in a highly dangerous manner. This behavior has severe repercussions on public health, well-being, and financial stability, costing the Slovene healthcare system an average of 153 million euros annually.

The extent and impact of alcohol consumption vary significantly across different regions and socio-economic groups in Slovenia and Europe. Eastern Slovenia, for instance, has a 1.7 times higher mortality risk and a higher percentage of premature deaths due to alcohol-related causes compared to the Western part of the country. The adverse effects of hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption are more prevalent among less educated individuals and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Currently, in 2016, Slovenia lacks a sufficient comprehensive strategy to effectively combat hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption. The WHO highlighted in 2016 that Slovenia is not sufficiently proactive in limiting advertising, raising prices, and restricting the availability of alcoholic beverages—measures proven to be cost-efficient. Just as effective measure includes a brief intervention by various healthcare and social service professionals; however, this measure is not systematically implemented to a sufficient extent. This intervention is particularly effective for individuals who are not yet addicted but drink in a way that poses a risk to their health and well-being, as well as that of their families and communities. Its implementation was one of the main goals of the SOPA approach, in addition to the other five.

Through the operational implementation of the European cohesion policy for 2014-2020, the Slovene Ministry of Health secured 6 million euros in European funds for the SOPA project. This funding enabled the creation of a network of Slovene healthcare and social institutions to address alcohol consumption on both individual and community levels.

We invited key stakeholders from healthcare, the police, social welfare, road safety, employment services, and local communities to join the project. Alcohol misuse not only causes health problems and material damage due to accidents and vandalism but also affects social inclusion, employability, individual prosperity, and societal productivity. To effectively oversee and guide the project, the Slovene Ministry of Health established a Guidance Commission comprising prominent experts and decision-makers.

I am confident that the SOPA project has paved the way for a successful, comprehensive national approach to public health. This model can be applied to other public health areas, particularly chronic non-communicable diseases and related risk factors.

Vesna Kerstin Petrič, MD, Head of Health Promotion and Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Conditions Control Sector at the Slovene Ministry of Health.