Alcohol consumption, harm and cost in Ireland – HRB publish new report

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Newly compiled data from the hospital in-patient reporting system confirms the impact of alcohol consumption on our health system.

The new Health Research Board (HRB) report examines national findings on the patterns and effects of alcohol consumption and how it is impacting us as individuals and as a society.

harm_to_healthSpeaking about the report Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive at the HRB said,

’This report clearly illustrates how Irish peoples’ drinking patterns are harming their health, increasing public health care costs and negatively impacting productivity. To give you a flavour, in 2013 alcohol consumption was responsible for three deaths every day, resulted in 17,120 discharges from hospital and absorbed one in every 10 euros spent on public health care.’

According to Dr Deirdre Mongan, lead author and Research Officer at the HRB,

’The report highlights that the rate of alcoholic liver disease trebled between 1995 and 2013. The fact the highest rate of increase was found in 15-34 year olds is a real public health concern as alcoholic liver disease usually develops after a number of years of harmful drinking, and as a result it is normally seen in older people. However, these increases would reflect the high occurrence of harmful drinking patterns that have been observed in numerous Irish surveys over the past decade.’

Key points among the findings

  Alcohol –how much and what we drink

  • In 2014 Irish drinkers consumed 11 litres of pure alcohol each. This is equal to 29 litres of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 445 pints of beer.
  • Current per capita consumption is 21% higher than the Department of Health steering group’s target which sets out to reduce per capita consumption, from 11.0 litres of pure alcohol per person to 9.1 litres.
  • In 2012 Ireland had the fourth highest alcohol consumption level among 36 OECD countries after Estonia, France and Lithuania.
  • It is not just what Irish people drink, but the way they drink that causes harm. In 2013 the HRB Alcohol Diary survey showed that more than 50% of Irish drinkers consume alcohol in a harmful manner – too much alcohol in one sitting and more than the recommended number of standard drinks in a week.

  Alcohol – the impact on our health

  • 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.

  Dr Mongan 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.’

Alcohol – impact on the economy and tax payer

  • In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for 160,211 bed days in public hospitals, that is 3.6% of all bed days that year; compared to 56,264 bed days or 1.7% of the total number of bed days in 1995.
  • €1.5 billion is the cost to the tax-payer for alcohol-related discharges from hospital. That is equal to €1 for every €10 spent on public health in 2012. This excludes the cost of emergency cases, GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.
  • An estimated 5,315 people on the Live Register in November 2013 had lost their job due to alcohol use.
  • The estimated cost of alcohol-related absenteeism was €41,290,805 in 2013.

This report presents national and international evidence that the health of Irish people would improve if we reduce overall alcohol consumption and address risky drinking patterns. There is substantive and clear international evidence about the most effective policies to reduce alcohol-related harm.   These include making alcohol more expensive, restricting its availability and reducing its promotion. The new Public Health Alcohol Bill contains these evidence-based measures.

According to Dr Mongan, ’The data presented in this report demonstrates that alcohol is price sensitive when its price increases then its consumption decreases and vice versa. In addition when alcohol consumption decreases then alcohol-related harms decrease and vice versa. This is why pricing policies such as minimum unit price or increased excise duty are important public health measures.’

Concluding, Dr Love said, ’This report provides clear evidence of both the individual and societal costs of our national alcohol consumption patterns. If we want to address these harms as a society, then it is important that evidence-based public health responses are used, like those proposed in the new Public Health Alcohol Bill.’

Copies of the report, HRB Overview 10, Alcohol in Ireland – consumption, harm, cost and policy response, is available on the HRB website