The majority of alcohol consumption and related harms in the Irish population are accounted for by low- and moderate-risk drinkers, and specifically by those who engage in heavy episodic drinking, new research from the Health Research Board (HRB) has found.
The study, Drinking patterns and the distribution of alcohol-related harms in Ireland: evidence for the prevention paradox, states that the majority of harms in the Irish population are not accounted for by dependent drinkers, but rather occur among drinkers who engage in binge drinking, defined as consuming six or more standard drinks on an occasion.
Almost two-thirds of drinkers surveyed in the HRB study reported engaging in heavy episodic drinking in the last 12 months, indicating that hazardous patterns of drinking are the norm in Ireland, the HRB notes. The eight harms covered in the survey were harm to finances, health, work or study, friendships or social life, home life or marriage, having been in a physical fight, an accident, and being stopped by the police. The results found that monthly and occasional binge drinkers combined accounted for 62% of all drinkers, consumed 70% of the alcohol and accounted for 59% of the harms.
CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland Dr Sheila Gilheany said: “Because harmful drinking is so common in Ireland it has been normalised, and we don’t always appreciate the problems it can cause both to individuals and to their wider circle. For this reason a whole of population approach is needed to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland which looks at all aspects of alcohol control from pricing and marketing to labelling and availability. It is very much time to fully implement the Public Health (Alcohol) Act.”
The HRB study states that despite the passage of hugely progressive legislation, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act (2018), none of the provisions in the Act have yet been implemented.
“The Public Health (Alcohol) Act has been passed and will introduce a number of population-based strategies to reduce alcohol consumption, including a minimum unit price for alcohol sales and restrictions on advertising and marketing. This policy represents one of the most progressive alcohol policies in the world. It was fiercely contested by the alcohol industry and the interval between the publication of the Bill and the passage of the Act at 3 years was the longest ever in Ireland. The findings in this study demonstrate that alcohol-related harms in Ireland are distributed across the population, providing support for a population-based strategy to reducing alcohol consumption. The findings thus indicate a need for the rapid implementation of measures outlined in the Public Health (Alcohol) Act (2018),” the report concludes.
The first measures of the PHAA to be implemented will come into operation in the coming weeks. They include the prohibition of alcohol advertising anywhere within 200 metres of schools and playgrounds, and on public transport, at stations and bus stops. Ads promoting alcohol will also be prohibited from being shown at under 18 films in cinemas.
Dr Gilheany noted that an important element of the legislation is the regulation of content of advertisements. “This will restrict advertisements of alcohol to only give specific information about the nature of the product such as its origin, its price and a description of its taste as opposed to lifestyle messages which link alcohol to social occasions etc. As yet there is no timeline as to when this will be introduced but it is clearly important in helping to denormalise the heavy consumption of alcohol in Ireland.”
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A standard drink contains 10g of alcohol eg a half pint of beer or a small glass of wine (100ml)
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