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So many people are dying from alcohol-related deaths it's like 'planes going down without survivors'

Despite three people dying in Ireland every day due to alcohol, one expert said there’s “very little outcry”.

shutterstock_252626734 Shutterstock / PhotoMediaGroup Shutterstock / PhotoMediaGroup / PhotoMediaGroup

MORE THAN 1,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths in Ireland every year, that’s three people per day.

The death rate is akin to several planes “going down without survivors”, the AGM of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), which is taking place in Dublin city, was told today.

However, despite the situation being “a huge and widespread personal tragedy”, there is “very little outcry”, Professor Frank Murray, chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) Policy Group on Alcohol, told the conference.

Of these three deaths per day, one is either a suicide, accident or as a result of violence, while the other two are due to chronic illnesses such as cirrhosis or cancer.

About 1.34 million people in Ireland drink harmfully – that’s more than one in every two people (54%) who drink. About 177,000 people in this country are dependent on alcohol.

Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 13.24.53 Prof Frank Murray Prof Frank Murray

Murray said part of the reason people, including many teenagers, drink is because of the widespread availability of cheap alcohol – such as in supermarkets and at petrol stations.

He told delegates that selling alcohol with food “gives the wrong message”, noting that it’s “the only thing you can buy in the supermarket” which is “mind-altering”.

Murray also called for a complete ban on alcohol brands sponsoring sports events.

He noted some of the marketing tricks supermarkets use to sell alcohol, such as keeping white wine beside the nappies in an attempt to get more young women to buy it. He said “vested interests” have made it difficult to tackle such issues.

“Ireland has an urgent alcohol crisis and the Public Health Alcohol Bill needs to be passed as a matter of urgency,” Murray said, encouraging delegates to contact their TDs to voice their support of the Bill, which is currently being debated by the Oireachtas.

Using Italy as an example, he said the increase in the cost of alcohol helped reduce consumption, although he added “we think it’s cheap compared to here”.

Murray said the care GPs give in terms of alcohol-related illness is often “too little too late” as many people don’t present until the “damage is done” or continue drinking when they should stop.

Drinking during pregnancy

Speaking at the same event, Professor Adrienne Foran, a consultant in Neonatology and Paediatrics at the Rotunda Hospital, echoed these sentiments.

She noted that many women drink alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy because they are not aware they’re expecting. However, she said other women knowingly drink while pregnant due to a dependency on alcohol.

She said alcohol addiction can also have tragic consequences post-pregnancy. She said getting “scary calls” is part of her job, noting they usually happen at 3am following a premature or difficult delivery.

However, she said the “scariest call I ever got was at 10am on a Monday”. Gardaí informed her that a baby had been found dead after their mother had gone drinking over the weekend, leaving their 10-year-old sibling in charge.

shutterstock_548603053 Shutterstock / Ania K Shutterstock / Ania K / Ania K

A study in The British Medical Journal in 2015 found that more than 75% of pregnant women in Ireland consumed alcohol at some stage, despite warnings about the negative effects of drinking.

Foran noted that a another study published in the Lancet medical journal in January 2017 concluded that for every 67 women who drink alcohol during pregnancy, one child is born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

She said, on the basis of figures in this study, it can be estimated that about 600 babies are born in Ireland each year with FAS, and that over 40,000 Irish people are living with the condition.

For every case of FAS, international evidence shows that there are further 9 to 10 babies born with FAS disorder (FASD).

Foran said FAS and FASD can be difficult to diagnose as, while the signs are “easy to spot”, the cognitive symptoms are often more difficult to detect.

Some of the symptoms include behavioural and learning difficulties (which many children who don’t have FAS also have), memory problems, attachment disorders, difficult with feeding, and motor function problems.

Foran said many women don’t realise that drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is also dangerous and should be avoided.

She said a better information campaign for pregnant women and new mothers should be developed, as well as long-term pathways to help women with a history of alcohol dependency quit drinking.

If you’re concerned about your own alcohol consumption, or someone else’s, click here or call the HSE’s Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459.

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