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Drop in people seeking help for alcohol problems 'partly due to Covid restrictions'

As many as 5,824 sought help for alcohol problems in 2020.

Image: Shutterstock/5PH

A DECREASE IN the numbers of people suffering from alcohol problems must be seen in the context of Covid-19, a new report found.

There were a total of 5,824 people treated for problem alcohol use last year while the new study has found that over seven years 51,205 were treated for alcohol abuse.

The statistics are included in a bulletin released by the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) on cases of treated problem alcohol use in Ireland. It covers the period 2014 to 2020.  

The number of treated cases recorded decreased from 7,760 in 2014 to 5,824 in 2020. 

The reports authors, Derek O’Neill, Anne Marie Carew and Suzi Lyons found that there was 38% female cases while there were 62% male in the reported cases.

alcohol bit pic An infographic showing the key points of the study. Source: Health Research Board

The median age of those seeking treatment was 41-years and it found that those who were suffering from addiction first began drinking at the age of 16-years.

Social factors were also studied – it was found that 9% of people were homeless and 49% of cases involved people who were unemployed. 

The report said that the 2020 data should be considered in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In general the figures were gathered from all types of services: outpatient, inpatient, low threshold, general practitioners, and those treated in prison.

“In 2020, there was an overall drop in the number of cases entering drug treatment which in part was the result of temporary service closures and measures introduced to comply with Covid-19 restrictions. This does not necessarily indicate a real decline in demand for treatment.

“High quality data are vital more than ever for measuring and understanding the impact of COVID-19 on addiction and addiction treatment in Ireland,” the report said. 

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of treated cases decreased by 22.8%, from 7,546 cases to 5,824 cases.

New cases, never treated before, decreased in proportion from 48.6% in 2014 to 42.8% in 2020. The proportion of previously treated cases decreased from 49.1% in 2014 to 45.1% in 2019, then increased to 54.4% in 2020.

“In 2020, three-in-every-five (60.2%) cases were treated in outpatient facilities (Table 2). The proportion of cases treated in residential settings decreased from 36.1% in 2014 to 28.8% in 2020.

“The reduction in residential numbers can in part be attributed to temporary closures and measures introduced to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

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“The proportion of cases treated in low threshold services was 8.0%, while the proportion of cases treated in prison was 3.0% in 2020. General practitioners do not currently report alcohol treatment figures to the NDTRS,” the report found. 

The 2020 figures also found that 23.1% of cases treated for problem alcohol use reported problem use of more than one substance.

In 2020, cannabis, 54.9%, was the most common additional drug reported by cases with polydrug use, followed by cocaine at 54.1% and benzodiazepines at 24.6%.

The proportion of cases reporting cannabis decreased from 63.2% in 2014 to 54.9% in 2020. Problem use of cocaine increased from 28.2% in 2014 to 54.1% in 2020.

The median age at which cases entered treatment has remained stable since 2015, at 41 years. The proportion of cases aged 17 years or younger has decreased from 2.1% in 2014 to 1.7% in 2020.

In terms of minorities in 2020, 2.1% of cases identified as Irish Traveller.

The report’s long term study over the previous seven years found in each year, rates of homelessness, ceasing education before age 16, and unemployment were higher among previously treated cases than among new cases.

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