Dangerous drinking charted like never before underlines failures of alcohol policy

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 01:01

Moderation in drinking is something too few Irish people have achieved. A Health Research Board survey, in which 6,000 people aged between 18 and 75 were asked to reveal their present and past patterns of alcohol consumption, presents disturbing results. Nationally some 2.48 million people drink alcohol. Half that number (54 per cent) drink harmfully, and to excess, according to the survey. Binge drinking – consuming more than three pints of beer during one night out – has become an increasingly worrying feature of overall alcohol consumption. And one in five drinkers do so at least once a week.

What many Irish drinkers, by subjective self-assessment, might regard as excessive clearly differs greatly from the norms and limits set by international experts. The experts – in this case the European Commission – have established what are the harmful health and social effects of excessive drinking, and its high personal and financial costs. People are drinking too much and starting at a younger age, as past surveys have shown, with Ireland now leading the international league table of heavy drinkers. According to this report, which is the most detailed analysis yet of Irish alcohol consumption, drinkers could have underestimated their actual consumption by as much as 60 per cent. The scale and seriousness of the country’s alcohol misuse problem has once again been highlighted, but the response by Government remains disappointing. Little has been done to address it; notably the issue of sponsorship of sports and arts by drinks companies.

As Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the HRB has said, Irish people are drinking more than they should without fully realising the damage they are inflicting on their own health. A major public education campaign on the health and other hazards of excessive drinking would meet an obvious need with more sophisticated messages compared to the failed scare tactics of the past. And so too would a belated Government move to tackle below cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets and other outlets.