Here are some of the main research findings regarding alcohol consumption in Ireland:
- Per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland was 11.46 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15+ in 2016 (revised: 11.15, reflecting revision of population estimate, 2017), an increase of 4.8% from 2015, when it was 10.93 litres (revised: 10.69, reflecting revision of population estimate, 2017).
- The Health Research Board (HRB) has pointed out that our per capita alcohol consumption in 2015 is equal to 41 litres of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 445 pints of beer per person aged 15+.
- When we consider the fact that at least one in five adults in Ireland don’t drink alcohol, it means that those who do drink are consuming significantly more than the per capita consumption figure shows.
- The HRB found that if you exclude the one fifth (20.6%) of the adult population who abstain from alcohol completely, the 2015 figures can be adjusted upwards to 46 bottles of vodka, 130 bottles of wine, or 498 pints of beer.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland almost trebled over four decades between 1960 (4.9 litres) and 2001 (14.3 litres).
There are several limitations to the per capita alcohol consumption measure. It’s estimated that over a fifth of Irish people do not drink at all, which is not reflected in the per capita figures. So when this is taken into account, those who are drinking are clearly drinking more, on average, than the consumption figures calculated this way indicate.
Meanwhile, in per capita figures, everyone aged 15+ is considered an adult; it cannot capture alcohol sourced abroad, and the impact of inward and outward tourism are other notable limitations to the per capita method.
One of the other key aspects to consider with regard to Ireland’s alcohol consumption is that it is not just how much alcohol is consumed, but the pattern of drinking that determines levels of harm in a population.
Per capita alcohol consumption does not allow us to examine drinking patterns in any detail, which is why comprehensive surveys examining alcohol consumption remain important.
- More than half (54%) of 18-75 year old drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers which equates to 1.35 million harmful drinkers in Ireland.
- 75% of all alcohol consumed in Ireland in 2013 was done so as part of a binge drinking session.
- One in five (21.1%) drinkers engage in binge drinking at least once a week.
- Almost two thirds (64.3%) of 18-24 year old drinkers consume six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking session.
- One third (33%) of men and more than one fifth (23%) of women who consumed alcohol in the week prior to the survey consumed more than the low-risk drinking guidelines of 17 standard drinks for men and 11 standard drinks for women.
- One in eight (13%) men and almost one in ten (9%) women drank their recommended weekly guidelines in one sitting in the week prior to the HRB survey.
- Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 28% of men and 22% of women consume their weekly guidelines in one sitting.
- Among Irish drinkers aged 18–75 years, 6.9% scored positive for dependence. This indicates that there were somewhere between 149,300 and 203,897 dependent drinkers aged 18–75 years in Ireland in 2013.
- Alcohol dependence was most common in 18–24-year-olds (14.7%) and least common among 65–75-year-olds (2.2%).
- 39% of all Irish people aged 15-years-old and over had engaged in binge drinking, or “heavy episodic drinking”, in the past 30 days.
- This puts Ireland just behind Austria (40.5%) at the top of the 194 countries studied and well ahead of our neighbours in Britain (28%) when it comes to binge drinking.
- When the 19% of non-drinkers in Ireland were excluded by the WHO, it found that almost two thirds of Irish men (62.4%) and one third of Irish women (33.1%) who drink alcohol had engaged in binge drinking in the previous month, almost half (48.2%) of all drinkers
- 76% of the Irish population drink alcohol, with 53% of drinkers doing so at least weekly.
- Men are more likely to drink than women, and those aged 25-64 are more likely to drink than those younger or older than this.
- Almost 4 in 10 (39%) drinkers binge drink on a typical drinking occasion with over a fifth (24%) doing so at least once a week.
- Lower levels of drinking in more deprived areas and lower social classes, but higher levels of binge drinking.
- 15% of those drinking at harmful levels felt in the past 12 months that their drinking harmed their health, and 22% felt they should cut down on their drinking.
The Healthy Ireland Survey found that “drinking to excess on a regular basis is commonplace throughout the population”. It states that, “Four out of ten drinkers in Ireland drink to harmful levels on a monthly basis, with over a fifth doing so on a weekly basis. This behaviour is evident throughout the population and is not specifically limited to particular groups. Given that 1 in 6 of those drinking at harmful levels felt in the past 12 months that their drinking harmed their health, it is likely that many of those drinking in that way are unaware of the risks associated with it”.