Home > Binge drinking and drinking-related harm: a European comparison.

Sinclair, Hamish (2004) Binge drinking and drinking-related harm: a European comparison. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 10, March 2004, p. 7.

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A recently published Health Promotion Unit research paper 1examined Irish drinking habits and the extent to which drinking was associated with experiences of adverse consequences. Data were collected in a survey among a national representative sample of adults aged 18 years and older, carried out by Lansdowne Market Research for the Department of the Health and Children. Using face-to-face interviews, 1069 respondents were asked questions about their drinking habits and experiences of adverse consequences from drinking. Fieldwork was carried out in September 2002. Since the survey contained questions similar to those used in a recent European comparative survey involving Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK, known as the ECAS (European Comparative Alcohol Study) countries, it was possible to make a European comparison. Some of the main findings are presented below.

A large proportion (23%) of the Irish adult population do not drink any alcohol. This proportion was three times as high as in the two Nordic ECAS countries and almost twice as high as Germany (13%), the highest ECAS country. However, for the Irish who do drink the reported annual alcohol consumption per drinker was 12.1 litres, higher than in any ECAS country. While Ireland held a mid-position with the ECAS countries in terms of the yearly number of drinking occasions, Irish drinkers were more likely to indulge in binge drinking during these sessions. An expression of the high inclination to binge drink in Ireland is the fact that, out of 100 drinking sessions, 58 end up in binge drinking for men and 30 for women, rates which were much higher than in any ECAS country. These results suggest that among those consuming alcohol in Ireland, binge drinking is the norm among men and occurs on about one-third of the drinking occasions of women.

On average, Irish male drinkers reported 1.2 adverse consequences per year associated with their drinking (of a maximum of eight), which was about twice as high as the ECAS average and higher than in any ECAS country. Irish female drinkers also experienced high rates of adverse consequences; rates were similar to those in Finland but lower than those in the UK, the two highest ECAS countries. Irish male drinkers were more likely to experience fights, accidents and regrettable conduct as a consequence of their drinking than their ECAS counterparts. A similar pattern was also found for Irish female drinkers, with the exception that women in the UK experienced more fights and accidents.

For Irish women the experience of health problems (an indicator of problems caused by long-term drinking) was the lowest in any of the ECAS countries. Experience of health problems by Irish male drinkers was also below the ECAS average but not as low as Italy and Sweden. According to the authors, this finding ‘may be related to the concentration of harm in the younger age groups. If this is the case, there is a risk that more long-term consequences will emerge in the future.’

The authors conclude that ‘Ireland has a strikingly high prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol-related harm. It will be an important challenge to find preventive measures that can reduce these problems.’ 

 1. Ramstedt M, Hope A (2003) The Irish drinking culture – drinking and drinking-related harm, a European comparison. Health Promotion Unit.  This paper is available on the Health Promotion website at www.healthpromotion.ie/uploaded_docs/Irish_Drinking_Culture.PDF

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