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Mongan, Deirdre (2007) Alcohol consumption in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 24, Winter 2007 , pp. 2-3.


The recently published report, Alcohol consumption in Ireland 1986–2006,1 written by Dr Anne Hope for the Health Service Executive – Alcohol Implementation Group, explains how alcohol consumption in Ireland is measured and describes trends in consumption since 1986. 


Alcohol consumption is measured by dividing the total alcohol sales figures provided by the Revenue Commissioners by the population figures provided by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).  The Revenue Commissioners compile annual alcohol sales figures based on the volume of each alcoholic beverage type (beer, spirits, wine and cider) released from bonded warehousing on payment of excise duty.  The figures for beer and spirits are given in litres of pure alcohol.  Figures for wine and cider are given by total volume, and the pure alcohol content is calculated based on an ABV (alcohol by volume) rate of 12.5% in the case of wine and 4.5% in the case of cider.


Consumption of alcohol per capita and per adult in the total population is calculated using the total sales figure for pure alcohol as outlined above and dividing it by the population figures provided by the CSO.  Given that 21% of the Irish population is aged under 15 years, it is generally considered that the rate of consumption of pure alcohol per adult (aged 15 years or over) is a more accurate reflection of consumption at a population level than the per capita rate. Since 1986 there has been a gradual increase in the proportion of adults in the population, which is an important factor when interpreting alcohol consumption figures and comparing consumption trends over time.


Alcohol consumption per adult increased from 9.8 litres of pure alcohol in 1987 to a peak of 14.3 litres in 2001, an increase of 46%.  The period of most rapid increase was from the mid-1990s to 2001 (Figure 1).  Consumption decreased by 6% between 2002 and 2003.  From 2004 onwards, consumption levels have remained quite static.  Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in Ireland and accounted for 6.82 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2006, which is similar to the level consumed in 1986 (6.93 litres).  Beer consumption peaked in 1998, when 8.33 litres of pure alcohol per adult was consumed as beer.  Since then, beer consumption has been decreasing.  Other noticeable trends in the type of drink consumed include the rise in popularity of wine, with an increase of 363% between 1986 and 2006, from 0.62 to 2.87 litres per adult.  The consumption of spirits increased steadily between 1995 and 2002 (up 42%) but decreased by 21% in 2003 following an increase in excise duty.  A similar trend is noticeable for cider, with consumption increasing by 515% between 1986 and 2001, from 0.20 to 1.23 litres per adult.  An increase in excise duty in December 2001 resulted in a 13% reduction in cider consumption in 2002.  In 2004, for the first time, consumption of wine exceeded that of spirits. 


Figure 1 Alcohol consumption per adult by beverage type, 1986–2006


Beer still has the largest market share of any alcoholic beverage, although its consumption is decreasing and its market share fell from 69% in 1986 to 51% in 2006 (Table 1). Wine has shown the greatest increase in popularity in the past 20 years, from 6% to 21%, and now has a higher market share than spirits.  The market share of cider has also increased, from 2% in 1986 to 8% in 2006


Table 1 Consumption of alcohol by market share of each beverage, 1986–2006



While alcohol consumption decreased from a peak of 14.3 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2001 to 13.3 in 2006, Ireland remains among the top alcohol-consuming countries in Europe, after Luxembourg and Hungary.  In 2003, the average consumption per adult in the enlarged European Union was 10.2 litres, compared to 13.4 litres in Ireland. 


This report demonstrates that alcohol consumption has increased substantially in the past 20 years and Ireland now consumes more alcohol per adult than most of its European counterparts.  There has also been considerable change in the choice of beverage consumed, with beer declining in popularity and wine and cider showing considerable increases in market share.  (Deirdre Mongan)


1. Hope A (2007) Alcohol consumption in Ireland1986–2006.  Report for the Health Service Executive – Alcohol Implementation Group. Dublin: Health Service Executive.

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 24, Winter 2007
Date:October 2007
Page Range:pp. 2-3
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 24, Winter 2007
Related URLs:
Subjects:VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Substance use behaviour > Alcohol consumption

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