Home > Seanad statement – Alcohol awareness and related issues.

[Department of Health] Seanad statement – Alcohol awareness and related issues. (12 May 2015)

External website: http://health.gov.ie/blog/speeches/seanad-statemen...

Alcohol Misuse

Ireland has a serious problem – we drink too much overall and binge drink a lot.  In spite of what we might like to think, alcohol is not abused by a small minority of individuals – the majority of people who drink do so in a harmful way.  Our alcohol consumption is in the top 5 among EU 28 Member States.  Although alcohol consumption per capita declined between 2007 and 2013, it remains high and the damaging dominance of a harmful drinking pattern remains very high by European standards and is a major public health concern.

From the provisional figures available, we know that consumption per capita increased from 10.6 litres in 2013 to 11 litres in 2014. This is probably related to the upturn in the economy.

If so, it is a matter of real concern as it indicates that without policy change, as people have more money in their pockets, they are likely to drink more of it.

Patterns of drinking, especially drinking to intoxication, play an important role in causing alcohol-related harm.  In Ireland, unfortunately, when we drink we tend to binge drink.  Ireland was second in the WHO European Region in relation to binge drinking with 39% of the population misusing alcohol in this manner at least monthly.

The Health Research’s Board Alcohol Diary Survey found that:

  • 54% of drinkers (aged 18-75) were classified as harmful drinkers
  • 75% of all alcohol consumed was done so as part of a binge drinking session
  • Irish drinkers underestimate their alcohol intake by 61%.

The study found that over half of adult drinkers in the population are classified as harmful drinkers – this equates with between 1.3 and 1.4 million harmful drinkers in Ireland.

These findings lead to the conclusion that harmful drinking is the norm in Ireland, in particular for our young people – men and women under 35 years.

Harms of Alcohol

This pattern of drinking is causing significant harm to individuals, their families and society. It is estimated that alcohol :-

  • was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011
  • was associated with 8,836 attendances in 2012 to specialised addiction treatment centres;
  • is involved in one of every three poisoning deaths in Ireland in 2012 and remains the substance implicated in most poisonings (i.e. toxic effect of drugs in the body);
    • was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm;
    • is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancer and injuries;
    • is a factor in many assaults, including sexual assaults, and in rape, domestic violence and manslaughter;
    • contributes to high levels of non-attendance at work and lower productivity
    • is associated with college drop-out
    • is a factor in 30% of all road collisions and in 36.5% of fatal road collisions.

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance has warned that, taking all diseases and injuries at a global level into account the negative health impact of alcohol consumption is 31.6 times higher than the benefit from low levels of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Harm to Others

The HSE report ‘Alcohol Harm to Others’ examines the damage that alcohol causes in the general population, the workplace and children in families.

The report says that over one in four people in Ireland reported experiencing negative consequences as a result of someone else’s drinking; one in ten Irish workers experienced negative consequences due to co-workers who were heavy drinkers and one in ten Irish parents reported that children experienced harm in the past 12 months as a result of someone else’s drinking.

The results confirm that alcohol is causing significant damage across the population, in workplaces, to children and carries a substantial burden to all in Irish society.  Action is required to protect the health and well-being of the wider public and especially children, from alcohol use.

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