Working to reduce alcohol harm

Men and alcohol

Irish men have very high levels of alcohol consumption and also a consistent pattern of binge drinking, defined as drinking at least six standard drinks on one drinking occasion, which is especially dangerous to health and wellbeing.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 found that almost two thirds of Irish men (62.4%) who drink alcohol had engaged in binge drinking in the previous month. Alcohol is the world’s leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59, according to the WHO.

One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol.  For further information on the health risks associated with alcohol, follow this link.

Irish men’s alcohol consumption

The Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey found that:

  • Almost two-thirds (63.9%) of males started drinking alcohol before the age of 18 years.
  • Four-in-five (80.3%) male drinkers, consumed six or more standard drinks on the occasion that they consumed the highest number of standard drinks in the last year.
  • One-third of male drinkers who consumed alcohol in the week prior to the survey, drank more than the HSE’s recommended low-risk weekly drinking guidelines (i.e. more than 17 standard drinks).
  • This measure was highest in the 18 to 24 years age group, with 43.8% of young men drinking more than the recommended weekly guidelines.
  • One-in-eight (12.9%) men and consumed more than the recommended weekly guidelines in a single day in the week prior to the survey.
  • This measure was, once again, highest in the 18to 24 years age group, with one-in-four (27.9%) young men drinking more than the recommended weekly guidelines in a single day.
  • Beer was the most common type of alcohol consumed by men of all age groups (76.7%). Cider was consumed by more than one-in-five young adults (22.5%).
  • Monthly binge drinking in Ireland was most common among males aged 18 to 24 years (67.8%).
  • Three in ten (29.9%) drinkers experienced at least one of the eight harms as a result of their own alcohol use, with men 1.5 times more likely than women to report harms (men 35.7%, women 24.1%).
  • 18% of men experienced at least one of the five harms as a result of someone else’s alcohol use.

The low-risk weekly recommended guideline for alcohol consumption for men is no more than 17 standard drinks a week, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.

Boost your health with the help of Alcohol Action Ireland’s  information leaflet Men & Alcohol: Making the Drink Link, which includes key facts that are good to know and lists some handy tips to help cut down your alcohol intake.

The Healthy Ireland Survey 2015 found that:

  • Men drink more frequently than women – 60% of men who drink do so at least weekly, compared with 46% of women.
  • Men across all age groups drink more frequently than women, however the difference is smallest amongst those aged 15 to 24 (men: 42%, women: 36%) and 35 to 44 (men: 54%, women: 47%).
  • Those drinking alcohol consume on average 5.6 standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion. The average is higher for men (7.2) than women (3.9).
  • Three-quarters (75%) of men aged 15 to 24 who drink consume six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion.
  • Whilst prevalence of binge drinking declines with age, the extent of this decline is more substantial for women than men. Whilst over 1 in 3 men aged 65 and over who drink do so at this level on a typical drinking occasion (34%), fewer than 1 in 10 (9%) of women aged 65 and over who drink do so in this way.

  Alcohol consumption and cancer among Irish men

  • Between 2001 and 2010, 6.7% of male cancer deaths in Ireland were attributable to alcohol – that’s 2,823 men.
  • Among Irish men, the majority (63.6%) of alcohol-related cancer deaths were in the upper-aero digestive tract (e.g. mouth and throat cancer).
  • In Ireland the proportion of alcohol related deaths from cancer for men is higher than the European average, at 20.7% for Irish men (versus 17% in Europe).
  • The projected number of new cases of alcohol-related cancers in the Republic of Ireland is expected increase by 81% for men by 2020.

Alcohol and suicide

The link between alcohol and suicide has been well established. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of completed suicides in Ireland and four times more men than women die by suicide.

The National Suicide Research Foundation has found that alcohol is associated with increasing trends in highly lethal methods of self-harm, in particular among men.

The All-Ireland Young Men & Suicide Project Report, found that “alcohol and substance misuse tend to be higher in young men and are associated with increased suicide risk”, while impulsive behaviour associated with alcohol use was also highlighted as one of the main risk factors for suicide among young men.

Dr Bobby Smyth, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, described the typical sequence of events in a suicide where alcohol is a factor:

“The majority of young men who take their own lives are intoxicated at the time. While we may choose to believe that people take alcohol in order to complete the act of suicide this is rarely the case.

Many of these young men and women have no history of suicidal behaviour. While we cannot know what exactly is going on in the mind of someone who completes suicide, we can at least learn from those who survive serious attempts. As I psychiatrist I have met many such people.

The typical sequence of events goes as follows. You are in bad form for whatever reason, often to do with relationships. You decide to have a few drinks to help you forget about it, as our culture encourages you to do. It doesn’t work.

You think about it even more. You do or say something, perhaps in an effort to sort out the relationship problem; but you are drunk, so it doesn’t work out so well. You feel worse. You decide to drink some more.

As you get more drunk the future is foreshortened. You are impulsive and have greater difficulty thinking of solutions. Life seems suddenly impossible and unbearable. Suicide begins to look like a solution and in your disinhibited, disorientated state you act on it.”

You can read Dr Smyth’s piece on alcohol and mental health, from which the above extract is taken, in full here.