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Alcohol is Ireland’s ‘biggest drug problem’

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has noted the publication of the 2019-20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey by the Health Research Board (HRB).

The main findings from the survey, in regard to alcohol use, include the following:

• 74.2 per cent of respondents reported having consumed alcohol in the last 12 months (defined as current drinking), corresponding to 2,904,000 of the general population in Ireland aged 15 years and older.

• The median age at which 15–24-year-olds initiated alcohol consumption has increased from 16 years to 17 years since 2002–03.

• One-third (34.1 per cent) of current drinkers typically consume at least six standard drinks per drinking occasion; this increases to one-half for male drinkers.

• Two-fifths (39.9 per cent) of drinkers engaged in heavy episodic drinking (HED) at least once per month.

• The proportion of the adult population aged 15–64 years who have consumed alcohol in the last year has decreased since the 2002–03 survey, from 83.8 per cent to 77.7 per cent in 2019–20.

• The prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the general population was found to be 14.8 per cent, corresponding to one in every seven or 578,000 adults in Ireland.

• The highest prevalence of alcohol use disorder was observed among female drinkers aged 15-24 years while young males were most likely to have hazardous or harmful drinking patterns. Among male drinkers aged 15–24 years, 63.1 per cent engaged in monthly HED.

Alcohol-related harm is most common among those with problematic drinking patterns. Those with alcohol use disorder are thirteen times more likely than low-risk drinkers to experience any of the following harms – health issues, being involved in an accident or in a fight, experiencing role impairment, or negative impacts on their home life.

Commenting on the report’s main findings on alcohol, Mr Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications/Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “This report highlights, yet again, the enormous difficulties we face as a society with alcohol use.

“The findings show an alarming prevalence of alcohol use disorders amongst our youngest drinkers – 18-24 years – with 37.5 per cent reporting maladaptive patterns of alcohol use.

“Too often a new generation hear the voice of alcohol business proclaiming the curiosities of drinking but never any reflection on the harms caused or the significant loss of creativity, enterprise or productivity to our society that is self-evident in these figures.

“Ireland’s hyper and harmful relationship with alcohol continues to act as a hand-break to realising our true promise.”

Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, added: “The HRB’s findings highlight the enormous difficulties we face as a society with alcohol use.

“This latest analysis of the prevalence of alcohol use disorder demonstrates the chronic shortage that exists within our alcohol treatment services, which are current incapable of meeting the demand for timely interventions to help those who are victims of Ireland’s most common drug.

“We understand that Minister Feighan and the Department of Health are currently finalising a mid-term review of the actions in the National Drugs Strategy in consultation with stakeholders.

“This report highlights that dedicated action is urgently required to proportionately address the needs and challenges of Ireland’s alcohol use.”

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