There was an increase in engagement with the self-assessment tool on the HSE’s askaboutalcohol.ie website and the drug and alcohol helpline during the first year of the pandemic, according to statistics provided to this newspaper.
In 2018 there were approximately 7,000 completions of the alcohol intake self-assessment tool on askaboutalcohol.ie, based on Google analytics data. The number increased to 19,000 in 2019 and rose substantially to 62,000 in 2020. The number last year was 18,000.
The HSE drug and alcohol helpline noted 1,536 alcohol-related contacts in 2018; 2,143 in 2019; 2,208 in 2020; and 2,214 contacts last year.
The HSE cautioned that because of the impact of the cyberattack, “the 2021 figures are therefore an underestimate.”
In response to the changing patterns of alcohol use at home during the pandemic, the HSE alcohol programme “produced two blog posts on www. askaboutalcohol.ie offering expert advice, and promoted them through its social media channels and network of partners”, a HSE spokesperson told the Medical Independent (MI).
The post titled ‘Alcohol advice for the coronavirus outbreak’ has had 19,106 views, stated the HSE. The page titled ‘Covid-19 coping tips and supports for people in recovery’ has had 1,573 views.
“In 2021, the HSE Corporate Plan 2021-24 stated that we will establish nine new community-based integrated alcohol services and roll-out a digital support service for harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption to reduce harmful alcohol consumption,” said the HSE’s spokesperson.
“In 2021 and as part of the Sláintecare healthy communities programme, funding was secured from the Department of Health to develop two new community-based integrated alcohol services which will be established early this year in Mid West Community Healthcare (Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO3)) and Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CHO4).”
Earlier this year, MI reported that a review and update of the weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines is upcoming. Changes in drinking patterns during the pandemic will inform the process. “An implementation plan for the HSE alcohol programme is currently in development and will include an action to review and update the low-risk drinking guidelines,” a Department of Health spokesperson said.