Worrying findings from “My World Survey”

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THE recent “My World Survey” from youth mental health charity Headstrong highlights just how pervasive alcohol use is generally among teenagers and the link between harmful drinking and mental health problems.

Over 14,000 teenagers and young adults in Ireland were surveyed and it found that 61 per cent were outside the normal range for drinking behaviour although it should be remembered that the same “norms” should not be applied to teenagers: teens tend to be smaller and lighter than their adult counterparts and modern neuroscience tell us that brains are developing right up until the early 20s.

The Headstrong survey also found that depression and anxiety were significantly higher when a young person engaged in harmful drinking or was classified as possibly alcohol dependant. Excessive drinking was also strongly linked to anti-social behaviour, while for young adults strong links were found between excessive drinking, self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

The “My World Survey” followed the release of a number of reports suggesting more positive news in terms of young people and drinking behaviour.

The release of the latest census figures, for example, will likely see the average alcohol consumption figure revised down from 12 litres per adult per year to an estimated 11.7 litres. The figure needs to be put into perspective: if every man and woman were to drink their maximum low risk drinking limits we would be drinking around 9.2 litres of pure alcohol a year, in other words we are still drinking around 2 litres of pure alcohol annually above maximum low risk recommended limits.

Another study released this year by the alcohol industry picking up on the census figures reported a 17% decrease in alcohol consumption in Ireland from 2001 – when we were at saturation levels of 14.3 litres – to approximately 11.7 litres in 2011. What the report didn’t state was that the biggest drop came in 2003 following an increase in excise duty, once again reflecting the direct impact of pricing on consumption levels.

Meanwhile, the Irish Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Study 2010 showed that there is an overall increase in the proportion of children who report that they have never had an alcoholic drink, up from 47% in 2006 to 54% in 2010.

Worryingly, these small yet positive progress indicators, have been used as evidence by certain vested interests for not pursuing alcohol-harm reduction policies that are known to work such as: pricing, availability and access and alcohol marketing. Such a stance ignores facts such as:


 ·                 Over half of all Irish drinkers have a harmful pattern of drinking, that’s 4 in 10 women and 7 in 10 men who drink

 ·                 While alcohol consumption has decreased in the last decade, our current levels of are still more than twice what they were in 1960 and over 20% above the levels we drank at in the mid-1980s

 ·                 Each adult who drinks in Ireland consumes the equivalent of 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka, according to our current alcohol consumption levels

 ·                 18 per cent of Irish people don’t drink alcohol, it means that those of us who do drink are consuming much more than the average consumption statistics set out above

 ·                 Irish children are drinking from a younger age and drinking more than ever before, with the average age of first alcohol use now 14-years-old

 ·                 Alcohol was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008 and alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides

 ·                 Alcohol is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish acute hospitals and alcohol-related illness cost the healthcare system €1.2 billion in 2007

 ·                 The cost of lost economic output due to alcohol was estimated to be €527 million in 2007

The worrying findings of Headstrong’s “My World Survey” are an important reminder that while good news is always welcome there remains a very real – and very big – challenge for everyone working to reduce alcohol-related harm in Ireland.

A clear blueprint for action has been set out in the National Substance Misuse Strategy, all that remains now is the political will to implement it.

For all the latest alcohol-related news, research and reports see www.alcoholireland.ie