Alcohol consumption’s devastating impact on Ireland’s health reflects the need for urgent action by Government

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has said that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill must be implemented without further delay to reduce alcohol harm in Ireland.


“The Health Research Board’s (HRB) analysis of the hospital in-patient reporting system clearly shows the huge burden that harmful drinking places on our health service and on individuals, families and communities throughout Ireland. It is important to remember that each one of the hundreds of thousands of ’discharges’ in this study is someone who has suffered ill-health due to their drinking, with many of those people dying as a result,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Advocacy and Communications.

“Three people die every day in Ireland due to harmful drinking and while one of those daily deaths will be due to a traumatic cause, such as alcohol poisoning or a drink-driving fatality, two of those three deaths will be due to medical causes, particularly chronic diseases, such as liver disease and alcohol-related cancers, which result from harmful drinking over time. The severity of the situation is demonstrated by the fact that the rate of alcoholic liver disease discharges trebled between 1995 and 2013, with the greatest rate of increase among young people aged 15 to 34.

“The number of people discharged from hospitals with a condition totally attributable to alcohol almost doubled between 1995 and 2013 and those hospital stays are getting significantly longer. Discharges where alcohol was partly responsible for the condition were three times that amount again, placing enormous pressure on our already overburdened health service and significantly contributing to the current crisis that sees ill people placed on trolleys and long waiting lists.

“The HRB data shows that over 160,000 bed days in public hospitals were accounted for by alcohol-related discharges in 2013, which translates to a cost of €1.5 billion to the tax payer, and that’s before you factor in the considerable costs of emergency cases, GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.”

Mr Cullen said that the pressure on our emergency departments from alcohol-related admissions is also a major concern as alcohol consumption in Ireland is a major contributory factor to injuries, through accidents and assaults, and self-harm.

“Though not accounted for by these hospital discharge figures, anyone who has spent time in an emergency department, especially on a weekend, will be able to attest to alcohol’s impact there, while it is an issue also continuously raised by the frontline medical staff working in our A&E departments, and our paramedics, for whom alcohol harm is a sad, daily reality.

“What this HRB report also emphasises is that it is not just the person who drinks too much who suffers in Ireland. Our high levels of harmful drinking have an impact on us all, including the burden it places on the health service and the tax payer, but also the many innocent victims of alcohol-fuelled assaults or drink-driving collisions and the thousands of Irish children suffering every day due to harmful parental drinking, a key child welfare issue that is all too often ignored.”

Mr Cullen said the Government needs to act urgently on this issue, not just to reduce the huge burden alcohol places on our health service, but to reduce the suffering and grief experienced by so many individuals, families and communities in Ireland as a result of our harmful drinking.

“We can no longer simply accept this damage as a normal part of our daily lives given the sheer scale of the loss of life, burden of ill-health and wide range of harms to people, including children, throughout our society.

“The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is the first legislation of its kind in Ireland, as it treats alcohol as the serious public health problem that this HRB report clearly demonstrates it is and presents evidence-based solutions that can create an environment where it is easier for people to make healthier decisions in relation to their alcohol consumption and where we can begin to reduce alcohol harm and make Ireland a healthier and safer place for all of us.”