Home > Speech by Minister Varadkar – 3rd Alcohol Forum National Alcohol Conference.

[Department of Health] Speech by Minister Varadkar – 3rd Alcohol Forum National Alcohol Conference. (22 Apr 2015)

External website: http://health.gov.ie/blog/speeches/3rd-alcohol-for...

I want to thank Pat Harvey and Kieran Doherty for inviting me to formally launch this conference.  It’s great to have this opportunity, because reducing alcohol misuse is one of my top public health priorities.

The theme of this year’s conference is particularly relevant: “The Best Available Evidence – Supporting the Implementation of Local Solutions to Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol Harm”.

My own view is that we need to work with the communities in order to stimulate discussion, and support initiatives, that make a difference at local level.  The Alcohol Forum’s work in raising awareness of the damage caused by alcohol abuse is vital in changing our attitudes to alcohol and reducing our levels of harmful drinking. I will speak a bit more about that in a few minutes.

You have some notable speakers today: Dr Thomas Babor, Professor David Jernigan, Dr Ann Hope, Dr Stephan Stewart, Ms Evelyn Smith and the young award winners Eimear Murphy and Mr Ian O’Sullivan.
Your work is crucial, because it considers the measures required to tackle alcohol misuse at all levels, from the legislative to the community setting.  So I want to thank you for your dedication, and for providing this invaluable resource to policy-makers and legislators.

I also want to thank the individuals here today, from the Health Service Executive, and all the Non-Governmental Organisations who are working on the ground to tackle the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol.

Alcohol Misuse
We all know that Ireland has a serious problem – we drink too much alcohol.  Furthermore, when we drink, we tend to binge drink.  Ireland’s alcohol consumption remains in the top five of EU28 Member States.  Ireland was second in the WHO European Region for binge drinking with 39% of the population misusing alcohol in this manner – at least once a month.  And the European Region as a whole has the highest consumption in the world.

Our most recent national alcohol consumption survey was published by the Health Research Board last year.  This report found that:
54% of drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers.
75% of all alcohol consumed was done as part of a binge drinking session
Irish drinkers underestimate their alcohol intake by 61%.

The study shows that more than half of adult drinkers in the population are classified as harmful drinkers.  This figure does not even include the 20.6% of the population who abstain. When the proportion of survey respondents who are classified as harmful drinkers is applied to the population, this equates with between 1.3 and 1.4 million harmful drinkers in Ireland.

Harmful drinking is more common among men than women, and most common among 18-24 year olds.  In this category a staggering 75% of them drink in a harmful way. In addition, a considerable proportion of ‘self-defined light or moderate drinkers’ drink six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion.  This is equivalent to binge drinking. So even these ‘light drinkers’ do not realise that they consume alcohol in an unhealthy manner.

The findings of this study led to the conclusion that, amongst the drinking population, harmful drinking is the norm in Ireland, in particular for men and women under 35 years. While alcohol consumption per capita declined between 2007 and 2013, it still remains high and the damaging dominance of a harmful drinking pattern in Ireland remains very high by European standards, and is a major public health concern.

Furthermore, from the provisional figures now available, we also know that consumption per capita went up last year, from 10.6 litres per capita to 11 litres.  This is at least partly related to the upturn in the economy. As things continue to improve we will need to ensure that the upturn does not translate into increased alcohol misuse.

[Click on link above for full speech]

Repository Staff Only: item control page