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Home > The untold story: harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking.

Mongan, Deirdre (2018) The untold story: harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 66, Summer 2018, pp. 14-15.

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In the last decade there has been a substantial increase in research relating to alcohol’s harm to others; and international research indicates that a significant proportion of the population has experienced harm from other people’s drinking. On 16 April 2018, the Health Service Executive (HSE) launched the results of the first dedicated Irish survey on alcohol’s harm to others.1 The survey was undertaken in 2015 using CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) and employed a probability sample. The total completed sample was 2,005 and the response rate was 37.2%. The survey comprised three main parts: 

  • Harm from others’ drinking (including strangers, co-workers and known drinkers); harm to children from others’ drinking; and alcohol-related domestic problems due to others’ drinking.
  • The burden on those around the drinker, for example, caring for the drinker; the burden of specific harms from drinkers with a cost impact; and having to seek help due to the drinking of others.
  • The financial burden of harms from others’ drinking, including the estimated cost of caring for the drinker; having to seek public services due to others’ drinking; out-of-pocket expenses; and estimated workplace costs related to co-workers’ drinking. 

Main findings

Harm from others’ drinking

  • In the 12 months prior to the survey, 51% reported experiencing harm due to strangers’ drinking. The most common specific harms reported were being kept awake at night by drunken noise (26%), harassed on the street (23%), and feeling unsafe in public places (19%). The profile of those more likely to report harm from strangers’ drinking were men, those under 60 and those with higher education.
  • Two in five (44%) reported experiencing harm from known drinkers in their life. The most common of these harms were being stressed or anxious (22%), called names or insulted (16%), and harassed in private (16%). More women than men reported the psychological harm items of stress, family problems, feeling threatened at home, feeling depressed, and having financial trouble due to the drinking of known drinkers, while more men reported the tangible harm items of being a passenger with a drunk driver and of ruined belongings.
  • Among respondents who were in paid employment, 14% reported harm due to co-workers’ drinking. The specific harms most often mentioned were reduced productivity (7%) and having to cover for co-workers due to their drinking (7%). Those more likely to report harm from co-workers’ drinking were men and those in the youngest age group (18–29 years).
  • Overall, one in six carers (16%) reported that children for whom they had parental responsibility experienced harm as a result of someone else’s drinking. The most common specific harms were a child negatively affected (12%), followed by verbal abuse (9%), and a child witnessing serious violence in the home (4%). Carers from the lowest household weekly income group and those separated were most likely to report harm to children due to others’ drinking.
  • Among respondents who reported being negatively affected by the drinking of people they knew, 42.5% experienced alcohol-related domestic problems. The most common specific harms were family problems, feeling threatened at home, shoved or pushed, and having less money for the household. Those more likely to experience alcohol-related domestic problems were women, those under 45 years of age, those with lower secondary education, and those who were separated. 

Burden on those around the drinker

Three in five (61%) reported having a known heavy drinker in their life or someone who drinks a lot sometimes. Of those with a known heavy drinker in their lives, 53% reported some form of lost time due to caring duties because of the known heavy drinker’s drinking in the previous 12 months. The most frequently reported caring duties were taxiing (32%), caring for the drinker (28%), cleaning-up after the drinker (24%), and taking on extra responsibilities caring for children or others (17%). One in five (19%) respondents reported experiencing harm due to others’ drinking that had a financial cost. The harms that resulted in a financial cost included ruined clothing or other belongings, property damage, less money for household expenses, stolen money, financial trouble, and a traffic accident due to others’ drinking. 


Overall financial burden of harms from others’ drinking

The total estimated cost of alcohol’s costs to others was €862.75 million (see Table 1). Over one-half (53%) of the cost was accounted for by the cost of caring for the known heavy drinker. The authors state that a conservative approach was used in estimating the cost of caring for a known drinker, which was confined to two of the caring duties (caring for the drinker and caring for children and others). The second most significant element of costs (14.8%) was the cost of out-of-pocket expenses related to specific harms due to drinking by others. The cost of seeking help due to drinking by others (14.5%) was the third most significant element of the total costs. Finally, the cost of drinking by others in the workplace accounted for 14% of total costs. However, this only represents the cost of additional days that had to be worked due to co-workers’ drinking and the cost of days lost from work due to others’ drinking.



The results presented in this survey indicate that the harms from others’ drinking is evident across Irish society and is experienced by the family, friends and work colleagues of the drinker and is also felt by strangers in public spaces. The annual estimated cost of harm due to others’ drinking in Ireland is just under €863 million. This cost estimate only includes tangible costs and not the intangible cost (fear, pain, suffering, lost quality of life) of alcohol’s harm to others, which are likely to be substantial. It also excludes information from health and social agencies, including police data, road crash mortality and morbidity, deaths statistics, hospital records, child protection agency data, alcohol and drug services and helpline data. This report highlights that preventing and reducing harm to others is an urgent public health goal.



1 Hope A, Barry J and Byrne S (2018) The untold story: harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking. Dublin: Health Service Executive.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 66, Summer 2018
September 2018
Page Range
pp. 14-15
Health Research Board
Issue 66, Summer 2018

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