AN ALCOHOL-RESPONSIBILITY advocacy group are hoping to implement the first-ever national Alcohol Awareness Week for March of next year.
The Alcohol Forum is an organisation that has its roots in a pilot programme of alcohol awareness in the old Northwestern Health Board. It had planned for a week of highlighting awareness in the northwestern area to go ahead last May but said that it received such a positive response to that idea from authorities and the public that it decided to try to roll it out as a nationwide campaign.
A high-profile alcohol awareness week has been running in the UK for several years and will be held again there next month from 19-25 November. However, there has never been a similar week-long nationwide project in Ireland.
A spokesperson for the Alcohol Forum told TheJournal.ie that while one prong of their work consists of lobbying and getting involved in advocacy work on alcohol-related issues, they also believe that “community mobilisation” is very important. To this end, they have developed a suite of tools to help communities become aware of alcohol abuse, how to deal with it and how to prevent it. Examples of these tools might be training courses for community leaders in promoting responsible drinking and festival care guides.
The week is pencilled in for March 2013 and Alcohol Forum is hoping to organise a national conference on 21 March in parallel with the event.
Alcohol Forum says that it is “not anti-drink and is not anti-pub” but aims to raise awareness of the harm caused by excessive drinking, and address the nature of the drinking culture in Ireland.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Alcohol Forum chairperson Pat Harvey said that they were not against the consumption of alcohol but were concerned with where that consumption crossed the line into “harmful drinking”. He said that as a nation, we need to “wise up”:
My own background is as a CEO of a health board so I’ve a keen awareness of the very pervasive nature of the damage done by excessive alcohol consumption. As well as legislation, there needs to be a general raising of awareness of that damage and a mobilising of the community.
Harvey said that he believed alcohol abuse to be a “bigger problem than the economic situation”. He added:
I’m not saying that in financial terms it is as big of a challenge as the economy but it is a massive problem. We are going to spend €30m on this problem over the next 10 years – in dealing with public order crimes, treatment, chronic diseases, mental health admission… I could go on with listing the impact it has.
Alcohol Forum is also a cross-border advocacy group and also offers support and advice to families affected by alcohol issues. Last year, it released a report on alcohol-related brain injury and another on the effect on children of being exposed to adult drinking.
Pat Harvey said that the organisation’s work is consistent with HSE and national strategies and they work closely with similarly-minded groups like Alcohol Action Ireland.