How much is too much?

Alcohol consumption in Ireland almost trebled between 1960 and 2001, rising from 4.9 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and over to 14.3 litres. It decreased the years that followed as an increase in excise duty, followed by the recession, impacted on alcohol’s affordability.

However, alcohol consumption has nonetheless remained at very high levels (10.9 litres in 2015). Drinking until drunk is also a particular concern, as binge drinking, which is a major driver of alcohol harm, is commonplace in Ireland, with the World Health Organisation finding that Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world.

Findings from research on alcohol consumption in Ireland show that, among those who drink, the majority are doing so in a harmful manner, with younger drinkers most likely to do so.

Based on the figures in the Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey, more than 150,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers, more than a 1.35 million are harmful drinkers, and 30% of people interviewed say that they experienced some form of harm as a result of their own drinking. The report also reveals that 75% of alcohol consumed in Ireland is done so as part of binge drinking and we underestimate what we drink by about 60%.

Alcohol’s harm to health

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Alcohol has major public health implications in Ireland. The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions, according to the World Health Organisation, such as liver cirrhosis, heart disease and cancer.

  • Alcohol is responsible for 88 deaths every month in Ireland. That’s over 1,000 deaths per year.
  • One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol.
  • Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. Alcohol is also involved in over a third of cases of deliberate self-harm, peaking around weekends and public holidays.
  • Liver disease rates are increasing rapidly in Ireland and the greatest level of increase is among 15-to-34-year-olds, who historically had the lowest rates of liver disease.
  • 900 people in Ireland are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 people die from these diseases every year.
  • Drink-driving is a factor in two fifths of all deaths on Irish roads.

Alcohol’s harm to others

Beyond the serious health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large in Ireland.

The burden of alcohol harm is often experienced by those around the drinker, such as a family member, friend, co-worker or innocent bystander. Alcohol’s harm to others undermines public safety and is experienced in every community, ranging from the nuisance factor, feeling unsafe in public places, drink-driving, to a violent attack by an intoxicated drinker.

Although not often visible in public, alcohol’s harm to others within the family can have very serious consequences for the safety and well-being of family members, with children the most vulnerable. Life-long damage, through foetal development disorders, can also be caused to the unborn child by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Meanwhile, all taxpayers are responsible for paying for the cost of alcohol harm to the State, mainly driven by health and crime costs, while there is also a considerable loss of economic output due to alcohol.

Therefore it’s clear that while drinking alcohol is an individual choice, it is one that has significant social and economic impacts, and Ireland’s high level of alcohol consumption has an impact on all of us, regardless of our personal relationship with alcohol.

  • Alcohol is a significant contributory factor in many cases of child neglect and parental drinking has been identified as a key child welfare issue.
  • Alcohol is a factor in two fifths of fatal collisions on our roads.
  • Alcohol is a factor in many assaults, including sexual assaults, rape and domestic violence, and manslaughter.
  • Alcohol is a factor in the vast majority of public order offences.
  • Every day, 1,500 beds in our overcrowded hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related problems.
  • Alcohol-related discharges from hospital cost the tax-payer €1.5 billion in 2012, which is equal to €1 for every €10 spent on public health. This excludes the significant costs of emergency cases, GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.

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The question we need to ask ourselves is – how much is too much?

The Health Research Board has found that:

  • There is a strong belief (85%) among Irish people that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is too high
  • There is a general perception (73%) that Irish society tolerates high levels of alcohol consumption
  • A considerable majority (72%) said they know someone, who in their opinion, drinks too much alcohol
  • Of those who know someone who drinks too much, 42% say it is an immediate family member
  • 58% of people think the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption, while 19% think the Government is doing enough
  • 78% believe that the Government has a responsibility to implement public health measures to address high levels of alcohol consumption

Follow this link to read the full HRB report or view the presentation below.