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Irish people drink the equivalent of 29 litres of vodka each a year

Our alcohol consumption is detailed in a new comprehensive report from the Health Research Board.

Image: Shutterstock/dmitrymoi

A NEW REPORT into how much alcohol we drink in Ireland lays bare the stark facts about how it is harming our health.

The Health Research Board study, called Alcohol in Ireland: Consumption, harm, cost and policy response, shows that in 2013, alcohol consumption was responsible for three deaths every day.

It found that Irish people drink the equivalent of 29 litres of vodka a year, which adds up to 11 litres of pure alcohol.

This is the amount drunk per capita. The report points out:

As 20.6% of the adult population abstain from alcohol completely, those who drink alcohol consume even greater quantities (46 bottles of vodka or 130 bottles of wine or 498 pints of beer). Consumption in 2014 was 20.9% higher than the target of 9.1 litres, as recommended by the steering group report.

health Source: Health Review Board

It also found:

  • Between 2001 and 2010, one in 10 breast cancer cases were attributable to alcohol.
  • Three people died each day in 2013 as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • In 2014, one-in-three self-harm presentations were alcohol-related.

  • An estimated 167,170 people suffered an alcohol-related assault.
  • An estimated 5,315 people on the Live Register in November 2013 had lost their job due to alcohol use.

  • The estimated cost of alcohol-related absenteeism was €41,290,805 in 2013.

The study looked at data compiled from the hospital in-patient reporting system, and says that what it found confirms the impact of alcohol consumption on Ireland’s health system.

shutterstock_293848514 Source: Shutterstock/www.BillionPhotos.com

Dr Graham Love, chief executive at the Health Research Board said: “This report clearly illustrates how Irish people’s drinking patterns are harming their health, increasing public health care costs and negatively impacting productivity.”

The report also highlights that the rate of alcoholic liver disease trebled between 1995 and 2013, according to Dr Deirdre Mongan, lead author and Research Officer at the HRB.

“The fact the highest rate of increase was found in 15-34 year olds is a real public health concern as alcoholic liver disease usually develops after a number of years of harmful drinking, and as a result it is normally seen in older people,” she said.

However, these increases would reflect the high occurrence of harmful drinking patterns that have been observed in numerous Irish surveys over the past decade.

What we drink – and how much of it

alcohol litres Source: Health Review Board

The study breaks down exactly how much alcohol Irish people drink every year. It found that in 2014 Irish drinkers consumed on average 11 litres of pure alcohol each.

This is equal to 29 litres of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 445 pints of beer.

In 2012, Ireland had the fourth highest alcohol consumption level among 36 OECD countries – after Estonia, France and Lithuania.

In 2013, the HRB Alcohol Diary survey showed that more than 50% of Irish drinkers consume alcohol in a harmful manner – such as drinking too much in one sitting and imbibing more than the recommended number of standard drinks in a week.

What about our health?

The study also examined the impact of alcohol on our health and Ireland’s health system.

It found that:

  • The number of people discharged from hospital whose condition was totally attributable to alcohol rose by 82% between 1995 and 2013 (from 9,420 to 17,120).
  • Males accounted for 72% of these discharges and females 28%.
  • The number of people discharged whose condition was partially attributed to alcohol increased from 52,491 in 2007 to 57,110 in 2011. This is approximately three times the number of discharges totally attributable to alcohol.
  • There has also been a steady increase in the mean length of stay for hospital discharges – from six days in 1995 to 10.1 days in 2013
  • This suggests that patients with alcohol-related diagnoses are becoming more complex in terms of their illness.

Drug treatment and deaths

The study looked at treatment for alcohol addiction, and found that a total of 7,549 cases entered treatment in 2013 with alcohol as their main problem drug.

These cases were predominantly male and the average age of those who sought treatment was 39-40 years. This is a decrease of just over 12% since 2011.

This decrease could reflect a true decrease in the number of cases, reduced levels of participation or under-reporting or a combination of these factors.

Dr Mongan said that between 2008 and 2013, 69% of alcohol-related deaths were due to medical causes (such as liver disease), 16% were due to poisonings and 15% due to traumatic causes (such as a road traffic collision).

This indicates that one death per day is due to poisoning or trauma and two deaths are due to chronic conditions.

Alcohol and money

shutterstock_362651360 Source: Shutterstock/dmitrymoi

The cost to the tax-payer for alcohol-related discharges from hospital is €1.5 billion, which is equal to €1 for every €10 spent on public health in 2012. This excludes the cost of emergency cases, GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.

In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for 160,211 bed days in public hospitals, which added up to 3.6% of all bed days that year. That’s compared to 56,264 bed days or 1.7% of the total number of bed days in 1995.

Risky drinking patterns

The Health Research Board said that this new report “presents national and international evidence that the health of Irish people would improve if we reduce overall alcohol consumption and address risky drinking patterns”.

There is substantive and clear international evidence about the most effective policies to reduce alcohol-related harm. These include making alcohol more expensive, restricting its availability and reducing its promotion.

According to Dr Mongan, the data in this report shows that alcohol is price sensitive: “when its price increases, then its consumption decreases and vice versa”.

Dr Love concluded by saying that if we want to address the individual and societal costs of our alcohol consumption, we need to put evidence-based public health responses in place, like those proposed in the new Public Health Alcohol Bill.

The report is available to read on the HRB website.

Read: Violent patients, overdoses, attacks and babies arriving – Saturday night for Dublin’s paramedics>

Read: How much more expensive is alcohol in Ireland compared to the rest of the EU? It’s the week in numbers>

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