Alcohol and your health

Health risks

Alcohol has major public health implications in Ireland due to our high levels of consumption and the fact that heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking) is commonplace. Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 


The WHO states that: “Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road clashes and collisions. 


Alcohol is classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as there is a proven causal link between alcohol and several types of cancer. 

See how much we drink here

Harmful drinking patterns

Health harm from alcohol is caused not only by the amount of alcohol consumed, usually over long periods of time, but also patterns of drinking such as heavy and/or binge drinking.  


Hazardous drinking can increase the risk of alcohol-related harms for the drinker – specifically the likelihood of poisoning, accidents, or falls – as well as alcohol-related conditions such as cancer and heart disease. 


The Health Research Board report –  Alcohol: availability, affordability, related harm, and policy in Ireland states that one in every five drinkers is classified as having AUD (alcohol use disorder). This equates to nearly 600,000 people. This was more common among male drinkers (24.8%) than female drinkers (15.1%), and was highest among those aged 15–24 years (37.5%).  


These patterns of alcohol use mean that a majority of drinkers in Ireland consume alcohol in a manner that is risky to their health.  

Read more about specific health harms here and here

Health consequences of drinking patterns

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study uses the measure of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), which is a calculation of the years lost due to a disease or health condition.


It found that in Ireland, more than 62,000 years of full health were compromised due to alcohol use, with men in particular being more likely to lose years of healthy life (44,538 years) as well as those aged 15–49 years (28,418 years). The data points to the heavy toll that alcohol takes on young lives in Ireland.


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcohol-related cancers accounted for the top causes of alcohol-attributable DALYs.  


Alcohol-related hospitalisations is a good measure that highlights the considerable burden on the Irish health system and the substantial preventable loss of life that alcohol causes. In 2021, the most recent stats available,18,877 people were hospitalised due to wholly alcohol-related conditions.


The length of stay for alcohol-related conditions increased in 2021 and was almost double that of a non-alcohol-related condition (9.9 days compared with 5.7 days). In 2021, 5.2% of all inpatient bed days were alcohol-related, meaning that such illness accounted for 177,230 bed days.  


Rates of hospital discharges due to alcohol-related liver disease in Ireland have steadily increased over time and 2021 saw the highest rate ever recorded, a 79.9% increase compared with 2002.  


This data indicates that not only are more patients presenting for alcohol-related liver disease but that when they do, they are sicker than in 2002, requiring more complex treatment. 

Alcohol's harm to others

Beyond the serious health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large in Ireland.  


The burden of alcohol harm is often experienced by those around the drinker, such as children and other family members, co-workers or innocent bystanders. Although not often visible in public, alcohol’s harm to others within the family can have very serious consequences for the safety and well-being of family members, with children the most vulnerable. Life-long damage, through foetal development disorders, can also be caused to the unborn child by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  


A 2020 study found that one-third (33.0%) of people surveyed reported having someone in their life – be it a family member, friend, co-worker, or someone else – who they considered to be a heavy drinker or drinks a lot on occasions, and 13.8% of these respondents reported that they were affected because of it.  


Harm to family was the most common harm reported by all age groups with the exception of those aged 15–24 years, who were more likely to report being assaulted (12.6%) and being a passenger with a drunk driver (11.5%). Females aged 35–49 years were almost twice as likely as males in the same age group to report harm to family as a result of someone else’s drinking (16.1% of females compared with 8.7% of males).


In addition, 4.3% of females aged 25–34 years reported financial harm as a result of others’ drinking; the comparable figure for males in the same age group was 3.1%. Elsewhere, among a sample of the population of Ireland, 51% of respondents reported experiencing harm due to stranger’s drinking in the previous 12 months.  


A study in 2022 found that one quarter of an adult sample had grown up with a ‘problem drinker’ in the home. 

Read more about harm to others here and here.