Irish women must be fully informed when it comes to their drinking

Alcohol Action Ireland has called for Irish women to be fully informed when it comes to decisions around their alcohol consumption.

Irish women are now drinking more alcohol, and more often, than previous generations and the impact of this change in drinking patterns is already clear in a number of worrying health trends, including an increase in the number of young women presenting with serious alcohol-related conditions, such as liver cirrhosis, and a high rate of alcohol-related cancers.

Speaking on International Women’s Day, Catherine Keane, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “We must create an environment where Irish women are fully informed when it comes to decisions around their alcohol consumption. At the moment we have an alcohol-saturated environment and Irish women are drinking much more than previous generations – this is having very serious consequences for their health, many of which they are simply unaware of.

“Women in Ireland, from a young age, are constantly exposed to targeted alcohol marketing, largely promoting drinks high in alcohol content such as wine and spirits. We are targeted in many ways, with social and digital media platforms an increasingly potent way for alcohol companies to reach women, particularly younger age groups. This all serves to normalise regular and excessive drinking, so it is seen as acceptable, risk-free, and central to relaxing and having fun with your friends.

“While women are being bombarded with messages about how wonderful wine is or are being invited to take part in events like a ’Bottomless Prosecco Brunch’, there is no mention of the other, very real side of alcohol consumption for female drinkers in Ireland, which is far removed from the frothy, fun advertising,” said Ms Keane.

“Excessive alcohol consumption increases your risk of developing a wide range of diseases, such as liver cirrhosis and several forms of cancers, including breast cancer. One in eight breast cancer cases in Ireland are associated with alcohol consumption and the proportion of alcohol-related deaths from cancer among Irish women, at almost four in ten, is significantly higher than the European average.”

Ms Keane warned that as well as having very serious consequences for women’s physical health, alcohol consumption is also a significant contributory factor to mental health issues.

“Alcohol is widely promoted to women as a way to relax and de-stress, or a reward at the end of a long day, and, along with this, there is a widespread misconception that wine is somehow better for you than other types of alcohol, therefore making it appear more acceptable or even safe.

“The reality is that your body cannot tell the difference between the alcohol products you consume and it’s how much alcohol you drink and how often that matters. Most importantly, alcohol can make it harder to cope with day to day stresses and it is particularly important not to turn to alcohol to help you cope. While you may feel some temporary relief, alcohol is a depressant and your mood drops quickly afterwards, ultimately making matters worse.”

Ms Keane said the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will help to inform women when it comes to their alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol industry self-regulation has fuelled our harmful drinking culture, where alcohol is marketed heavily at women and sold in supermarkets as if it were just another grocery, despite the harm it can case and even though alcohol products carry no health warnings and will generally not provide any calorie information, or even a list of ingredients.

“Our newly-elected TDs have a responsibility to prioritise public health and create an environment that supports women in Ireland to make healthy choices, with the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill a key priority. This landmark piece of legislation contains a number of important provisions, including health labelling on all alcohol products and regulations to protect children from alcohol marketing, which will help create an environment that promotes and supports health and wellbeing rather than encouraging the harmful drinking patterns that currently cause so much damage.”



Female drinking patterns in Ireland

Over one-fifth (22.8%) of female drinkers, who consumed alcohol in the week prior to the Health Research Board’s national alcohol diary survey, drank more than the low-risk weekly drinking guidelines (i.e. more than 11 standard drinks). This measure was highest in the 18 to 24 years age group, with 39% of young women drinking more than the recommended weekly guidelines in the week prior to the survey.

One-in-ten (9.1%) women 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 18 to 24 years age group, with one-in-five (22.5%) young women drinking more than the low-risk weekly guidelines in a single day.

Wine is the most common type of alcohol consumed by women aged over 25 years (58.9%), and spirits are the most common type of alcohol consumed by young women aged 18 to 24 years (59.9%).

Women are more vulnerable to alcohol harm

While the gap between male and female alcohol consumption is closing, women experience greater health risks from alcohol than men and the onset of alcohol-related health problems begins earlier. Women are more vulnerable to tissue damage, cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol dependence.

Women’s bodies process alcohol differently resulting in higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood when drinking equal amounts of alcohol to men. Women tend to have lower body weights, less body water and higher percentages of body fat than men – meaning they don’t process alcohol as efficiently as men.

Alcohol harm facts

  • A man who drinks six or more standard drinks a day is 13 times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver compared to a non-drinker: a woman needs only four standard drinks a day to increase her risk to the same degree. That’s about a half bottle of wine.
  • 12% of all breast cancers in Ireland are associated with alcohol consumption, the National Cancer Control Programme has found.
  • 4.6% of female cancer deaths in Ireland were attributable to alcohol between 2001 and 2010 – that’s 1,700 women.

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