Press release: HRB report highlights the great burden alcohol places on people, society and public services

Increased availability of alcohol leads to increased harms, warns HRB 

Ireland is an “alcogenic environment” where, despite the many harms, alcohol use is interlinked in many aspects of our lives and 73% of the population lives within 300 metres of a liquor licence, a Health Research Board report on alcohol states. 

The report, Alcohol: availability, affordability, related harm, and policy in Ireland, published today, calls for Ireland’s low-risk alcohol guidelines to be reviewed as they “remain unchanged despite advice from the WHO that no level of alcohol use is safe.” 

The report states that since the last HRB overview in 2021, per capita use has dropped from ninth highest among the 38 countries in the OECD, to 16th. 

However, harmful and hazardous drinking patterns are still seriously impacting people’s health and health services:   

Alcohol use is the 8th leading cause of death in Ireland with one person dying every day due to alcohol-related liver disease, and more than one-in-three road user fatalities had been drinking prior to the incident.   Alcohol is the substance for which people seek treatment the most and the average annual consumption for people aged 15 years and over in 2023 was 9.9 litres of pure alcohol.  This equates to 37 bottles of vodka (70cl), 104 bottles of wine or 400 pints of beer.  

AAI CEO Dr Sheila Gilheany welcomed the report: 

“This excellent report once again highlights the toll alcohol takes on Irish society at all levels. As the report states, currently we are making progress in terms of a decrease in overall consumption. However, as it notes – the consequences of alcohol use are many including alcohol-related hospitalisations, alcohol-related deaths, the numbers receiving treatment for problem alcohol use, and alcohol-related crime. Alcohol use in Ireland places a sizeable burden on resources, not least in healthcare. Alcohol is responsible for at least three deaths every day, and for almost 19,000 wholly alcohol-attributable hospital discharges from acute Irish public hospitals in 2021.” 

The report highlights that in 2022, alcohol sales in Ireland generated €1.23 billion in excise receipts in 2022, “meaning that this is a hugely profitable industry.” However, the cost of the harm from alcohol far outweighs the excise receipts. These costs have been estimated in high income countries to be of the order of 2.5% of GDP, which for Ireland would be €12 billion. 

The report states: “The HSE provides low-risk alcohol consumption guidelines, but these are now dated considering the WHO’s advice and renewed evidence highlighting the risks associated with the consumption of even small quantities of alcohol. A revision of the low-risk guidelines is warranted, and the introduction of mandatory health warning labels in 2026 will go a long way in informing drinkers of the alcohol content of their drinks and of the risks involved.” 

The HRB also highlights widely held concerns that the Sale of Alcohol Bill (2022) threatens the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, as it intends to increase alcohol availability through extended opening hours and an expansion of the number of outlets selling alcohol. The WHO advises particular caution regarding increasing the availability of alcohol, as this is associated with increased alcohol-related harms. 

Increasing availability is known to increase harms and this in a society where, as the HRB finds there is a liquor licence for every 345 people nationally; 73% of the population of Ireland lives within 300 metres of a liquor licence. 

The reports states: 

“A higher density of alcohol retailers is associated with greater incidences of violence, assault, and domestic violence. It is also associated with an increased risk of underage children purchasing alcohol, binge drinking, and incidents of drink-driving. Ireland has a high density of premises selling alcohol. Despite the decrease in the overall number of liquor licences issued, the decrease in the number of pub licences issued has been offset by an increase in the number of off-licences.” 

Dr Gilheany added: 

“As the Sale of Alcohol Bill (2022) proposes to increase the number of outlets selling alcohol, the evidence suggests that this proposed legislation could increase per capita alcohol use and consequently increase the associated harms to public health. It is important that liquor licence density is regulated in order to avoid oversaturation, especially in areas of deprivation. As the report notes, despite the decline in the number of pubs in Ireland, we still rank 3rd highest for the number of pubs per capita in Europe: there is 1 pub for every 684 adults nationally. Not only that, but in areas of high deprivation, there are almost twice as many liquor licenses as in more affluent areas. The Sale of Alcohol Bill provides an opportunity to address some of the harms and inequalities from alcohol if public health was put at the heart of licensing decision making. For this reason, multiple organisations including the Road Safety Authority and the Chief Medical Officer are calling for a Health Impact Assessment of the proposals.” 


The full report can be accessed here:
HRB Alcohol Overview Series 13 (