Awareness of some of the most significant risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption is lowest among those young people who binge drink the most, the Healthy Ireland Survey 2016 has shown.
The survey found that 37% of drinkers in Ireland binge drink on a typical drinking occasion, but among those under-25 this increased to 67% for young men and 39% for young women. Those aged under 25 are also typically less aware of the risks of excessive drinking, despite engaging in this behaviour most frequently.
“While most drinkers identified liver disease as a potential risk of excessive drinking, just half were aware of the risk of high blood pressure and less than half were aware of other risks, such as bowel cancer and pancreatitis,” said Catherine Keane, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alcohol Action Ireland.
“The low level of awareness of the breast cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption among women, particularly young women, just 16% of whom were aware of it, is very concerning, as the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) found that 12% of all breast cancers over the course of a decade in Ireland were associated with alcohol consumption.”
Overall, the NCCP found that 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 people die from these diseases every year. (1) Alcohol consumption can cause cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, bowel and female breast. All these cancers show evidence of a dose-response relationship, meaning the risk of cancer increases steadily with greater volumes of alcohol consumption.
“Like liver problems, alcohol-related cancers can take many years of drinking to develop and the best way to reduce your risk of developing one is simply to reduce how much you drink. A significant proportion of alcohol-related cancers can be prevented if people adhere to the low-risk weekly limits for alcohol consumption. This is also true of a large number of other alcohol-related illnesses. Less alcohol is better for your physical and mental health in the short and long term, but many people remain unaware of the risks and this is reflected in our drinking habits,” said Ms Keane.
The second Healthy Ireland Survey also shows that excessive drinking is particularly prevalent among men, with almost five times as many men (44%) as women (9%) having consumed more than 10 standard drinks at least once in the past year.
“The greater prevalence of binge drinking among men, especially young men, is not surprising as we know they are far more likely to be involved in the types of risky behaviour that goes hand-in-hand with drinking to excess, such as accidents, fights, drink-driving and self-harm,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Communications and Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, part of the Healthy Ireland framework, contains a range of evidence-based measures that will help to save lives, reduce alcohol-related harm and also increase people’s knowledge of the many serious risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
“The Healthy Ireland Survey results highlight the importance of tackling the influence of alcohol marketing, which sees vast sums of money spent positioning alcohol products as completely positive and risk-free. This marketing targets young people, is a constant presence in their lives and tells them that alcohol is central to belonging, enjoying life, popularity, sporting prowess, and a seemingly endless list of desirable traits, but tells them nothing about the serious risks associated with alcohol – especially at a young age,” said Mr Cullen.
“The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill contains measures to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing and it also addresses the issue of health labelling of alcohol products, which should include a warning about cancer given the current low levels of awareness around the issue. Ultimately, this legislation will ensure that alcohol is no longer treated as just another ordinary commodity or grocery, but is regulated effectively to reduce alcohol harm in Ireland and improve public health, safety and wellbeing.”
The Department of Health and Health Service Executive have low-risk weekly guidelines for alcohol consumption for men and women.
For adults, the recommended low-risk guidelines for alcohol consumption are:
Men: 17 standard drinks (170 grams of pure alcohol) or less, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.
Women: 11 standard drinks (110 grams of pure alcohol) or less, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.
- 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.