Working to reduce alcohol harm

High prevalence of ‘pre-drinking’ and heavy drinking identified in new survey

Alcohol Action Ireland has described the findings of a new survey on ‘pre-drinking’ as worrying, due to the prevalence of harmful drinking patterns identified in Ireland.

The survey, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, examined the effects of drinking, heavy drinking and drink prices on ‘pre-drinking’, with pre-drinking defined as alcohol consumed before going out, where more alcohol is consumed.

The survey, using data provided to the Global Drug Survey by those aged 16 to 35, found that Ireland was first among the 25 countries for pre-drinking and fourth for the prevalence of heavy drinkers. It also found that pre-drinking was linked with heavier drinking and negative alcohol-related consequences.

“We know that our drinking habits have changed dramatically in recent decades, with alcohol consumption in the home much more common, and supermarkets, with their low-price offerings, now the main players when it comes to alcohol sales. The worrying aspect of these findings is not where people are drinking, but the manner and quantity of their alcohol consumption, as this is ultimately what impacts on their health and wellbeing, regardless of where the drinking takes place,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Communications and Advocacy.

“The survey findings suggest that engagement in pre-drinking is partly sustained by the same cultural tendency to drink that underpins alcohol use in the general population, and in Ireland we know – and this survey confirms – that for many people this means pre-drinking is simply part of an exercise in drinking to get drunk and it is particularly popular among younger age groups as it can be achieved very cheaply.”

Mr Cullen said that, as the survey highlights, this type of drinking carries a much greater risk of negative alcohol-related consequences.

“These consequences are not just related to the significant impact of heavy drinking on our physical and mental health over time, but, in an Irish context, much of the harm we see due to alcohol is as a result of the wide range of poor decision-making, risky and impulsive behaviour that we know goes hand-in-hand with this kind of drinking, including accidents, fights, drink driving, self-harm, and suicide.

“We would encourage anyone who is drinking to do so in a low-risk manner, so they can enjoy themselves and also still look after their health and wellbeing. However, we drink in a culture where excessive alcohol consumption has been normalised, as has the significant harm that it causes, including the loss of three lives every day. The responsibility for addressing this major public health problem does not just lie with individuals, but with our Government, which has an opportunity, through the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, to create an environment that supports healthier decisions in relation to alcohol consumption and can help change our harmful relationship with alcohol for the better.”

The country-level effects of drinking, heavy drinking and drink prices on pre-drinking: An international comparison of 25 countries was published in the Drug and Alcohol Review.