Working to reduce alcohol harm

Alcohol and Health

Alcohol has major public health implications in Ireland due to our high levels of consumption and the fact that binge drinking is commonplace. The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO states that: “Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road clashes and collisions. A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to alcohol consumption arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic crashes, violence, and suicides, and fatal alcohol-related injuries tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.”

The harmful use of alcohol is especially fatal for younger age groups and alcohol is the world’s leading risk factor for death among males aged 15 to 59, according to the WHO. In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption. 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. Read the WHO’s fact sheet on alcohol here.

There are three deaths every day in Ireland due to alcohol consumption. Dr Deirdre Mongan of the Health Research Board said: “Between 2008 and 2013, 69% of alcohol-related deaths were due to medical causes (such as liver disease), 16% were due to poisonings and 15% traumatic causes (such as a road traffic collision). This indicates that one death per day is due to poisoning or trauma and two deaths are due to chronic conditions”.

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The health impact of alcohol consumption in Ireland:

  • 88 deaths every month in Ireland are directly attributable to alcohol.
  • One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol.
  • There are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol in Ireland as due to all other drugs combined.
  • Alcohol was implicated in 1 in 3 (137) of all poisoning deaths in 2013, more than any other single drug, and alcohol poisoning alone claimed one life each week.
  • 900 people in Ireland are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 people die from these diseases every year.
  • 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.
  • Drink-driving is a factor in two fifths of all deaths on Irish roads.
  • Alcohol is a factor in one third of all drownings in Ireland.
  • More than one in four of those attending accident and emergency departments have alcohol”‘related injuries, almost half of which occurred to people aged under 30.
  • Alcohol is a factor in one in four traumatic brain injuries.
  • Alcohol is a factor in 80% of cases of patients admitted to neurosurgery units following an assault.
  • Chronic alcohol-related conditions are becoming increasingly common among young age groups. Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) 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.
  • Analysis of data from Ireland’s Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) scheme showed that the rate of ALD discharges increased by 247% for 15 to 34-year-olds and by 224% for 35 to 49-year-olds between 1995 and 2007.
  • Alcohol-related admissions to acute hospitals doubled between 1995 and 2008.
  • Alcohol-related deaths also increased during the same period, from 3.8  deaths per 100,000 to 7.1  deaths per 100,000.
  • St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin saw a 335pc increase in admissions with alcoholic liver disease between 1995 and 2010.
  • Over 14,000 people were admitted to the liver unit in St Vincent’s Hospital for the treatment of alcohol dependence in 2011.
  • Every day, 1,500 beds in our hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related problems.

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

  • 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.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, one in ten breast cancer cases were attributable to alcohol.
  • Three people died each day in 2013 as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • In 2014, one- in-three self-harm presentations were alcohol-related.
  • An estimated 167,170 people suffered an alcohol-related assault.
  • A total of 7,549 cases entered treatment in 2013 with alcohol as their main problem drug. These cases were predominantly male and median age was 39-40 years. This is a decrease of just over 12% since 2011. This decrease could reflect a true decrease in the number of cases, reduced levels of participation or under-reporting or a combination of these factors.

rate_of_alcohol_related_liver_diseaseSee our reports section for research and publications relating to alcohol and its impact on health, while further statistics around the impact of alcohol harm can be found here.

In this talk, Professor Frank Murray, Consultant Gastroenterologist and President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), speaks about alcohol-related harm in Ireland.

Professor Murray says that alcohol is a major health burden and a major economic burden, but that this also presents us with a major opportunity to do something about it.

Professor Frank Murray speaks about alcohol-related harm in Ireland from Alcohol Action Ireland on Vimeo.