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Home > Tackling alcohol-related harm in Ireland.

Long, Jean (2004) Tackling alcohol-related harm in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 12, December 2004 , pp. 1-2.

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The Minister for Health and Children established the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol in January 2002 as recommended by the First Report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing.The brief of the Task Force is ‘to recommend specific, evidence based measures to Government to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm.’  The Task Force published an Interim Report in May 20021 which contained recommendations to:

  • regulate availability
  • reduce drink driving
  • limit harm in drinking environments
  • protect children and reduce pressure on adolescents to drink
  • provide information, education and services
  • develop key indicators to monitor the situation 

 

 Up to September 2004, progress has been made in a number of key areas:2 

  • Excise duty on cider and spirits was increased; future increases on a regular basis are intended.
  • The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 was published and contained measures to deal with underage drinking as well as drunk and disorderly conduct.
  • Bar staff have commenced training on responsible serving practices.
  • The writing of draft legislation to reduce the exposure of children to alcohol marketing was commenced.
  • The Road Traffic Act was revised to permit more extensive breath testing for drivers.
  • The drinks industry has established a process for reviewing proposed advertising of alcohol products.
  • The Irish Sports Council published the Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Children’s Sport in Ireland in 2000, in line with the government’s guidelines on child protection.
  • A public awareness campaign (known as ‘Less is More’) has effectively raised awareness among the general public about the harms associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
  • There is mandatory education on the misuse of alcohol in both the primary and secondary school curricula. 
  • A number of research studies have been completed, including the second national lifestyles survey, a study investigating public attitudes to alcohol policy changes, and a pilot project on identifying problem alcohol use in general practice. 

On 22 September 2004, the Task Force presented its Second Report to the Minister for Health and Children.2 This report reviews:

Current trends in alcohol consumption in Ireland

  • Ireland has the second highest per capita consumption in the European Union.
  • Alcohol consumption per person over 15 years was 13.8 litres in 2003, a fall of 0.6 per cent compared with 2001/2.
  • Beer is the most common product consumed.
  • Binge drinking is more common in Ireland than in many other countries.  Of every 100 drinking sessions, 58 end in binge drinking for men and 38 end in binge drinking for women.
  • The HBSC 2002 study reported that at least half of boys and girls between 15 and 17 years were drinking at the time of the survey.
  • Between 1993 and 2002, there was a dramatic increase in the number of off-licences.
  • On average, alcohol expenditure represents 5.5 per cent of the total household expenditure. 

Recent trends in alcohol-related harm

  • Between 1992 and 2002, alcohol-related mortality rates increased for: cancers related to alcohol; alcohol dependency; alcohol abuse and psychosis; chronic liver disease and cirrhosis; alcohol poisoning; and suicide.
  • There is little trend data on health service demand for treatment as a result of alcohol use, apart from the following information:  
    • A recent study reported that a large proportion of the young people in North Dublin who required treatment in an accident and emergency at the weekend did so a result of excessive drinking.
    • A new study published in Addiction3 reported an 80 per cent increase in alcohol-related emergency admissions at acute hospitals in the North Eastern Health Board, from 432 in 1997 to 777 in 2001.
    • In two health board areas, over 60 per cent of those treated for problem substance use reported that alcohol was their main problem drug, and polydrug use was reported by one-fifth of alcohol cases.
    • Alcohol is a factor in two-fifths of parasuicides.
    • As in other countries, in Ireland there was a positive association between per capita alcohol consumption and population suicide rates form 1990 to 2000.4
    • Figures from the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit reveal a fourfold increase in the number of requests by women to determine if they have been assaulted in recent years.  Many women report that they think their drink was spiked but toxicology only ever detect large quantities of alcohol rather than drugs.4
    • 85 per cent of women continue drinking during their pregnancy.
  • Despite the introduction of penalty points, the number of people killed on the roads between 9.00 pm and 4.00 am (which is a proxy for alcohol-related deaths among road users) has remained relatively stable. 

The Second Report of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol has revised and expanded the recommendations in the Interim Report to include the following actions:

  • Regulate availability by continuing to increase excise duty, restricting the numbers of outlets, restricting children’s access to places where alcohol is served, and self-monitoring within the community.
  • Control the promotion of alcohol through legislation to restrict advertising, sponsorship and sales promotions.
  • Enhance society’s capacity to respond to alcohol-related harm through community mobilisation, consultation with young people, providing alcohol-free alternatives and instituting professional training.
  • Protect public, private and working environments through supporting parents and encouraging good practices in the workplace.
  • The alcohol beverage industry will institute responsible serving in both licensed and off-licence outlets, ensure responsible labelling and promote low- rather than high-alcohol beverages.
  • Continue to provide information and education through public awareness, education in schools and special programmes in community settings.
  • Develop effective treatment services through early identification of problem alcohol use (through primary care, emergency health facilities and the justice system), and provision of specialist treatment (referral pathways and counselling).
  • Maximise support from non-government organisations so that they can advocate for policy change and create public awareness on the harmful effects of alcohol.
  • Research and monitor progress through an independent research and monitoring unit, utilising all sources of information and reviewing progress on key indicators.
  • Implement the drink-driving recommendations presented in the 2002 report.  

1. Strategic Task Force on Alcohol (2002) Interim Report. Dublin: Department of Health and Children.

2. Strategic Task Force on Alcohol (2004) Second Report. Dublin: Department of Health and Children.

3. O’Farrell A, Allwright S, Downey J, Bedford D, Howell F (2004) The burden of alcohol misuse on emergency in-patient hospital admissions among residents from a health board region in Ireland. Addiction, 99, 1279–1285.

4. O’Farrell A (2004) Ireland and its drink problem: the immediate adverse effects of binge drinking in Ireland. Irish Medical Journal, 97 (6), 165-166.

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