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Government failure to tackle alcohol abuse had "devastating" impact on society - health specialist

Dr Declan Bedford said we need a national strategy that should include minimum pricing in Ireland to control alcohol sales at discount prices.

File photo
File photo
Image: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

THE FAILURE OF successive governments to develop a National Alcohol Policy has had a “devastating” impact on Irish society in general and family life in particular according to Public Health Specialist, Dr Declan Bedford.

Bedford was speaking at the annual Irish Medical Organisation Doolin Lecture in the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, yesterday.

In his lecture he said that Ireland has become a nation of binge drinkers with a dangerous ambivalence towards alcohol and the damage it inflicts on lives across the community.

He said a strong indication of this was the fact that “there are more places where you can buy drink in Ireland than there are shops where you can buy fruit, vegetables or milk”.

Bedford said the statistics around alcohol in Ireland were staggering:

  • The average Irish adult who drinks  consume the equivalent of a bottle of vodka a week.
  • Every seven hours someone dies from an alcohol-related illness.
  • Irish people are now the biggest binge drinkers in Europe and only three in every ten Irish adults on a normal drinking occasion have two drinks or less.
  • Research has shown that one in four adults binge drink every week, Bedford said. (Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in a single session.)

Under-aged drinking

The health specialist said Ireland’s alcohol problem is not just confined to adults with a European study indicating that half of our 15-16-year-olds have drunk alcohol in the psat month. A quarter have been drunk at some stage in the past month and in the case of Irish girls they drank 44 per cent more alcohol in their last “session” than their European peers.

“Children have told us that they find it easy to get alcohol and this is confirmed that one in four mid-teenagers bought alcohol in off-sales outlets and one in three consumed alcohol in a bar or disco in the past 30 days.”

“Alcohol needs to be less available and more strictly controlled to protect our children from the harms of alcohol,” Bedford said.

Bedford said the impact on family live in terms of relationships, disruption to home and work life might not be easily calculated but said we do know that alcohol is a factor in half of the suicides in Ireland.

He said alcohol abuse also imposes enormous burdens on the health services with an estimated one in every eight people attending at a Emergency Department unit there as a result of alcohol.

“In pure financial terms alcohol related harm in Ireland costs the economy €3.7 billion,” he said.

“Averaged out over all alcohol consumed in Ireland, this means that on average that each standard unit of alcohol consumed causes 85 cent worth of harm.”

“We need a national strategy that should include minimum pricing in Ireland to control the sales of alcohol at discount prices in supermarkets and other off licences,” he added. “The minimum price should cover at least the cost of the harm.”

Read: Alcohol tax hikes ‘would put independent off-licences out of business overnight’>

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