Working to reduce alcohol harm

Alcohol Action Ireland response to ESPAD survey

“The ESPAD survey released today shows some positive trends when it comes to alcohol consumption among Irish children, particularly declines in heavy episodic drinking and drunkenness from the 2011 survey, which are very welcome,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Communications and Advocacy with Alcohol Action Ireland.

“However, it is important to remember that these are children and therefore we still have a long way to go in terms of protecting them from the large risks to their health and wellbeing from drinking alcohol at a young age, with over a quarter of them reporting having had their first drink at age 13-years-old or younger.

“ESPAD’s target population is defined as students who turn 16 in the calendar year of the survey and therefore they are all aged 15 and 16-years-old, which is still too young for alcohol to be part of their lives and particularly to be drinking on a regular basis.

“Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harms and risks, as their bodies and brains are still developing, while the younger a child starts to drink alcohol the more likely it is they will develop problems with alcohol misuse in the future. Therefore, delaying the age of drinking initiation is important for a child’s health in both the short and long-term.”

Some of the key findings from the 2015 ESPAD survey in relation to alcohol consumption in Ireland:

  • 77% feel it is ’fairly easy’ or ’very easy’ to obtain alcohol, with girls (79%) finding it easier than boys (75%) to obtain alcohol
  • 27% had their first experience of alcohol at the age of 13 or younger (31% of boys and 23% of girls)
  • 74% have used alcohol during their lifetime (boys 72% and girls 75%)
  • 35% have used alcohol in the past 30 days (boys 34% and girls 36%)
  • 13% have been intoxicated in the past 30 days (boys 14% and girls 13%)
  • 4 occasions – the average frequency of alcohol intake in the past 30 days (4.8 for boys and 3.8 for girls)
  • 6 centilitres of pure alcohol – the average alcohol intake on the last drinking day (6.5 boys and 5.4 girls)
  • 28% – prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (five or more drinks – one drink contains approximately two centilitres of pure alcohol) at least once in the last 30 days (28% for both boys and girls)
  • Irish boys more likely to drink beer and cider than girls, while girls are more likely to drink spirits and alcopops than boys

“While it is encouraging that Ireland is below the European average in a number of important ESPAD categories, it is also notable that exceptions to this include the number of boys and girls who were drunk in the previous 30 days and the average alcohol intake on the last day of drinking. This reflects the trend of heavy episodic drinking, or drinking to the point of drunkenness, which is commonplace throughout all age groups and responsible for a large burden of alcohol harm in Ireland,” said Mr Cullen.

“When children and young people are consuming large volumes of alcohol in a short space of time then they are putting themselves in immediate danger, not just in terms of alcohol’s direct impact on their physical and mental health, but also the poor decision-making, accidents and the other forms of risky behaviour that we know go hand-in-hand with binge drinking.

“One of the most disappointing aspects of this survey is that over three quarters of Irish 15 and 16-year-olds still find it easy to obtain alcohol, which is reflective of both the massive increase of the availability of alcohol in outlets throughout Ireland in recent years and the ongoing failure of the current regulations to protect children from alcohol harm.

“The reality is that, as a result of the emerging dominance of the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, alcohol is now more widely available and affordable than it has ever been, while children are also heavily exposed to, and influenced by, alcohol marketing, which is a constant presence in their lives and reassures them that alcohol is central to belonging, enjoying life, popularity, sporting prowess, and a seemingly endless list of desirable traits, but the serious risks to their health and wellbeing from alcohol at a young age are notably absent.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) have made it clear that the overwhelming evidence shows that tackling alcohol pricing, marketing and availability are the most effective, and cost-effective, measures for reducing alcohol harm in a country and with three alcohol-related deaths every day it is beyond time that we took action on this vital public health issue.

“It is these WHO-recommended measures, contained in Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which will support our teenagers and their parents in their efforts to make healthy choices in relation to alcohol consumption and ensure that the encouraging progress reflected in many categories in this latest ESPAD report is sustained and results in positive, lasting change to our harmful drinking culture.”