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'Sweden is confused about tackling addiction'

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'Sweden is confused about tackling addiction'
Swedish drinkers. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
06:52 CEST+02:00
Sweden should ban tax-free boozing in the Baltic and offer more help for sex addicts, argues Rupert Wolfe Murray from one of the UK's leading rehabilitation clinics.
Sweden's approach to alcoholism and addiction is puzzing.
 
On the one hand its general attitude towards alcohol is among the best I have ever heard about anywhere in the world. 
 
All sales of alcohol (apart from in pubs and restaurants) must go through the state monopoly – Systembolaget - a network of shops that are closed from 6pm or 7pm during the week and shut up shop from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. 
 
Ordinary supermarkets cannot sell any wine or spirits and certainly not the low-cost-high-volume poison peddled by many of Britain's superstores.
 
According to Anna Sjöström, a Swedish addiction expert and Sweden's representative for the UK rehab clinic Castle Craig Hospital, studies show that this approach is a key reason why Sweden has one of the lowest alcohol consumption rates in Europe.
 
In Sweden the per capita consumption was 9.3 litres of pure alcohol in 2014 while the European average is 12 litres.
 
Scandinavians are known to be binge drinkers and prone to alcoholism so their alcohol-sales policy, which keeps prices artificially high in order to avoid this, has to be commended. 
 
Swedish Binge Cruises
 
What I don't understand is why the government therefore allows thousands of Swedes to board massive cruise ships, sail to the Baltic States and drink themselves silly every weekend.
 
Passengers can access booze at duty free prices on-board these tubs and when they get to Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia can buy even more drinks at a cost price far lower than on home soil.
 
How is this even possible? Both Sweden and the Baltic countries are part of EU and the sale of tax-free booze while travelling between these states should be illegal.
 
Some passengers never even leave the boats; they just eat, get very drunk and load up their cars with cut-price alcohol. 
 
I spoke to one paramedic who works in the ambulance service near the harbours at Grisslehamn and Kapellskär. He told me that his team picks up people at least twice a week with alcohol poisoning from these cruises.
 
The tickets for these crossings are 90 percent cheaper than other similar cruises, making it clear that the whole operation is just a way to sell booze to vulnerable people. 
 
 

One of Sweden's state-run Systembolaget stores. Photo: TT
 
Sex addiction
 
Another observation concerns sex. When I was growing up in Scotland our neighbour over the North Sea was a beacon of sexual liberation and I assumed that Swedes were miles more advanced than us primitive Presbyterians.
 
Indeed, Sweden is a very liberal country when it comes to talking about sexuality and its different forms. Swedish school children get a good sex education and homosexuality is widely accepted. Gay marriage has been legal since 2009 and gay couples are allowed to adopt children. Married lesbian couples can get artificial insemination paid for by the state.
 
But the more problematic aspects of sexuality are not so easy to discuss in Sweden.
 
When I spoke to Roger Nilson, a former surgeon who now works as a sex addict therapist I was shocked to learn that until recently the Swedish Health Service didn't recognize the ailment of sex addiction. 
 
Until Nilson managed to set up the first sex addicts' therapy group in a state-run hospital in Stockholm, Sweden's Health Service barely offered any treatment for this debilitating addiction. Roger Nilson told me that his sex addiction therapy group “is probably the first 12-step-based treatment program in a state-run hospital anywhere in Scandinavia.”
 
Sex addiction, along with compulsive gambling, is one of the fastest growing addictions today – mainly because the internet offers such easy access – and health services across Europe need to gear up for those individuals whose lives are being ruined by these epidemics. 
 
There will of course be plenty of ordinary Swedes who love a few drinks and enjoy sex. But Sweden needs to do much more to help those in the population that have crossed a line and become addicted.
 
Rupert Wolfe Murray is the European Representative for Castle Craig Hospital, a leading British rehab clinic which also treats Swedish patients.
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