Working to reduce alcohol harm

Alcohol and health

The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol, which represents 5.9% of all deaths.[i]

Harmful alcohol use is the fifth leading cause of death and disability worldwide, up from 8th in 1990, and every 10 seconds somebody dies from a problem related to alcohol and many more develop an alcohol-related disease.[ii]

Alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major non-communicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries and deaths resulting from violence and road traffic collisions.[iii]

In Ireland, our harmful drinking has a huge impact on our nation’s physical and mental health, causing the loss of 88 lives due to alcohol every month.[iv]

The Health Research Board (HRB) published a comprehensive report in June 2016,[v] which set some of the main impacts of alcohol consumption on our health in Ireland:

  • Three people died each day in 2013 as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • The number of people discharged from hospital whose condition was totally attributable to alcohol rose by 82% between 1995 and 2013, from 9,420 to 17,120. Males accounted for 72% of these discharges and females 28%.
  • There has also been a steady increase in the mean length of stay (LOS) for hospital discharges, from 6.0 days in 1995 to 10.1 days in 2013, which suggests that patients with alcohol-related diagnoses are becoming more complex in terms of their illness.
  • The rate of alcoholic liver disease discharges grew threefold between 1995 and 2013. The highest rate of increase was observed among 15–34 year-olds, albeit from a low rate.
  • The number of people discharged whose condition was partially attributed to alcohol increased from 52,491 in 2007 to 57,110 in 2011. This is approximately three times the number of discharges totally attributable to alcohol.
  • In 2014, one- in-three self-harm presentations were alcohol-related.

Alcohol also has a significant impact on our health in relation to cancer – 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 people die from these diseases every year, according to the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP).[vi]

The NCCP research found that, between 2001 and 2010, 6.7% of male cancer deaths and 4.6% of female cancer deaths in Ireland were attributable to alcohol – 2,823 men and 1,700 women. More than half of all head and neck cancers in Ireland during that period were associated with alcohol consumption, while 12% of all breast cancers were associated with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol also has a significant impact on our mental health. The National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) found that alcohol was involved in 35% of all cases of deliberate self-harm in 2014[vii] and it has also been found to be a major contributory factor to suicides in Ireland.

The evidence shows that the health of Irish people will improve if we reduce overall alcohol consumption and address risky drinking patterns.[viii]



[i] Global status report on alcohol and health 2014. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2014.

[ii] Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy. OECD; 2015.

[iii] Global status report on alcohol and health 2014. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2014.

[iv] Martin J, Barry J, Goggin D, Morgan K, Ward M, O’Suilleabhain T. Alcohol-attributable mortality in Ireland. Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire). 2010;45(4):379-86.

[v] Mongan D, Long J. Alcohol in Ireland: consumption, harm, cost and policy response. Health Research Board; 2016.

[vi] Laffoy M, McCarthy T, Mullen L, Byrne D, Martin J. Cancer incidence and mortality due to alcohol: an analysis of 10-year data. Ir Med J. 2013;106(10):294-7.

[vii] Griffin E, Arensman EC, P., Dillion C, Williamson E, Perry I. National Self-Harm Registry Ireland: Annual Report 2014. Cork: National Suicide Research Foundation; 2015.

[viii] Mongan D, Long J. Alcohol in Ireland: consumption, harm, cost and policy response. Health Research Board; 2016.