In 2019 Irish people aged 15 and over drank 10.8 litres of pure alcohol per capita with a small decrease in 2020 to 10.07 litres/per capita. This corresponds to approximately 40 (700ml) bottles of vodka, 113 (750ml) bottles of wine, or 436 pints of beer. And, given that about one in four of the population abstain from alcohol completely, those who drink alcohol consumed even greater quantities (53 bottles of vodka or 149 bottles of wine or 574 pints of beer). As a population, Ireland’s consumption level remains significantly higher than the Government’s 2020 target of no more than 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person a year and is 40% above the HSE low-risk drinking guidelines.
Since the 1990s, data shows that there has been a shift from consuming alcohol in pubs and bars (the on-trade sector) to consuming alcohol purchased in off-licences (including supermarkets and other retail outlets that sell alcohol). Between 1998 and 2018, the number of pub licences in Ireland decreased by 21.8%, from 10,395 to 8,134. During the same time period, the combined number of wine and spirits off-licences increased by 407%, from 1,063 to 5,389. This means that people are now drinking at home more often than ever before, a trend that was further solidified during COVID-19. Research has found that adults who drink mainly at home report that they are aware that they run a risk of higher overall alcohol consumption therefore this trend may have long-term public health consequences.
Harmful alcohol use patterns
Alcohol-related harm is determined by the volume of alcohol consumed and the pattern of drinking. Not only has Ireland a very high level of alcohol consumption research from the Health Research Board (HRB) indicates we also have high levels of heavy episodic drinking (binging).
In a study, the HRB found that binge drinking among low to moderate risk drinkers accounts for most alcohol-related harm in the population.
The research highlighted that monthly and occasional binge drinkers accounted for 62% of all drinkers in Ireland and this group consumed 70% of the alcohol, and accounted for 59% of the harms in the population.
According to the HRB, sustained high-volume drinking above low-risk drinking guidelines may not lead to much intoxication and acute consequences, such as accidents, but can lead to chronic harms such as liver cirrhosis. Acute intoxication or heavy episodic drinking (HED), even in a person who does not have a long-standing drinking problem, can result in alcohol poisoning and injuries.
In addition to all of this, the HRB 2019-2020 Irish Drug and Alcohol Survey indicates that almost 15% of the Irish population over the age of 15 has an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – that’s around 578,000 people. The highest prevalence of AUD was among young people aged 15-24 years with a rate of 37% for males and 38% for females.