Dominic Hughes accompanies a police patrol as they deal with the drunken excesses of a Friday night in Helsinki and meets a victim of the country's hard drinking culture.
Alcohol consumption has soared in Finland following a tax cut
We saw our first really drunk man at around 10pm, picked out by the headlights of the police van as it cruised slowly down the road.
He looked like an office worker in his 40s, dressed in a suit and overcoat, with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder, weaving and staggering along the pavement, narrowly avoiding obstacles like lamp posts and trees.
The two enormous policemen we were travelling with were unfazed.
They see a lot of this kind of thing on their regular Friday and Saturday night patrols.
So they ignored the office worker. He looked like he was on his way home to sleep it off.
It's Friday night in Helsinki, and the object of the exercise seems to be to get as drunk as possible.
Our escorts had already picked up one hopelessly smashed teenager, depositing him in the grim confines of what they call the "drunk tank", the biggest in Europe.
Lit by bright fluorescent tubes, the small cells smell of urine and stale sweat, with a toilet in one corner and a foam mattress on the floor.
Our teenager was like a puppet who had had his strings cut. Legs buckling, head dropping, he was moaning incoherently.
And he was quietly crying. You could see he had not planned on ending his night here, or in such a bad state.
Most people who wind up in the drunk tank are locked up for their own protection.
It is at its busiest on weekends when the drinkers of Helsinki really let rip.
But the police do not arrest just anyone, only those who look like they will be a danger to themselves or others.
Many drunks find themselves victims of crime. Others are injured in falls.
We came across one man with a nasty gash to the head. He had not been attacked, he was just so drunk he fell over and knocked himself out.
And passing out on a freezing cold Finnish winter's night can be lethal.
A few days earlier I had met another victim of Finland's heavy drinking culture, although Grandfather Matti, as he likes to be known, did not think he had been influenced by anything other than pressure of work.
At first he presented a slightly shambolic figure: a crumpled red jumper, a full, tangled beard and a funny little pair of pink-framed glasses perched on his head.
But after our interview he pressed a CD into my hand, explaining that it was some of his work.
When I flipped through the sleeve notes, I wished I had read them before. It was only then that his story started to make more sense.
Mattijuhani Koponen, to use his full name, has lived an extraordinary life.
He describes himself as a "multi-artist", whose life is an artwork in itself. He is not joking.
He has been a poet, a composer, a musician, a water-colour painter, a photographer, a performance artist, a gardener, an activist in men's post-modern liberation movement and a journalist.
The sleeve notes tell how, in the 1960s, he was the driving force for an interdisciplinary underground group called The Sperm.
They arranged happenings, performances and concerts. Apparently they caused some debate and public outrage at the time in Finland.
I can imagine.
Matti's most famous concert took place in December 1968.
It is described as a symphonic love poem of reconciliation made by the biblical figures of Cain and Abel, represented as an act of love on top of a grand piano.
Drinking for days
The sleeve notes say this act of reconciliation between good and evil led to a trial, which saw Matti imprisoned for eight months, the only time an artist has been jailed in Finland.
Apparently some theologians thought such a reconciliation was impossible.
Call me crazy, but I am not sure that would be the reason he was jailed. It might have more to do with the act of love on top of a grand piano.
After this Matti appears to have retreated into journalism, and alcohol became more of a feature in his life.
He became a man obsessed by work.
Writing for two papers, he found the only release was through drink.
He would drink for days. The first night was OK, he says, the second was fun, the third bad.
"I had a wonderful family," he says and then sighs. "My wife got tired of my drinking and then..."
He trails off, leaving the disintegration of his family unspoken.
Back on the streets
So now he visits a suburban alcohol treatment centre for regular check-ups.
In a very Scandinavian way he said he does not drink that much any more: just a few beers and maybe a drop of cider.
Back at the drunk tank the cells fill up. Muffled shouts and moans filter through the heavy steel doors.
Most of the occupants eventually fall asleep, monitored by closed circuit television in case they fall ill.
And in the morning the lucky ones will head for home, nursing what the policemen say will be their worst ever hangover.
But for those who have been caught up in alcoholism so badly that they have lost everything, it is a return to the streets.
But tomorrow or the next day it is almost certain they will be making another visit to the drunk tank.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 29 October, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.