We need to reclaim sport from the drinks industry

  • Post category:News
As specialists in liver disease, my colleagues and I have seen at first hand the results of the increase in alcohol consumption of recent years. As a nation, we are now drinking twice as much as previous generations, and binge-drinking more frequently than any other European country.

By Frank Murray, of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, in The Irish Times

Where once doctors treated older men for liver failure associated with alcohol, we are now seeing men and women in their 30s and 40s dying from liver disease due to alcohol. These patients are frequently unaware that their level of alcohol consumption is putting them at risk of liver failure. Their heavy drinking is commonplace in a country that tolerates excessive drinking and public drunkenness.

In recent years, beer consumption has decreased as many of us have swapped the pint for a glass of wine. This may give the impression that we have adopted a sophisticated, moderate attitude to alcohol consumption. The truth, however, is that the only sophistication in our relationship with alcohol lies in the slick marketing campaigns of alcohol brands.

Indeed, many people are unaware of these facts and some of the other health impacts of alcohol. On average three patients a day die as a result of alcohol and this is probably an underestimate. Recent research shows there is an increased risk of various cancers, even when alcohol is consumed within low risk limits, and this risk increases with the amount consumed. The reported death rate in Ireland from liver cirrhosis has doubled in 20 years.

Alcohol is a significant cause of many cancers. This includes breast cancer, and cancer of the larynx, pharynx, and oesophagus. Alcohol is also a factor in unsafe sex, damage to the foetus during pregnancy, and is linked with suicide. In addition, there are the various family and social problems caused by or made worse by problem alcohol use, including domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual assault.

It is time that we recognised the health and social harms of alcohol, and changed our drinking habits accordingly and reduced dangerous alcohol consumption.

There are many factors which have led to the situation of excess consumption.

Alcohol is more affordable now than ever. A woman can reach her weekly maximum recommended limit for just over €6, while a man can reach his for less than €10.

Cheap alcohol can be purchased widely; alongside groceries in supermarkets and in petrol stations. Even one day without alcohol sends many rushing to the tills to stock up on discounted “Good Friday” deals promoted by means of social media. Sports sponsorship by alcohol companies has become the norm, linking sporting prowess with a drug in a contradiction that has been tolerated up until now.

As doctors, my colleagues and I share a responsibility to advise the public on health matters as we would advise a patient in our clinical practice. We also feel a duty to highlight areas where government intervention on health issues is necessary to affect behavioural change.

We support Minister for Health James Reilly and the Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White in their efforts to curb excessive alcohol consumption. We stand behind moves to introduce minimum pricing to prevent the sale of cheap alcohol. Young people and people with alcohol problems buy very cheap alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores. This measure would make alcohol less accessible to these at risk groups.