Almost half of all women who completed an online survey for The Irish Times admitted to binge drinking in the past seven days.
About 45 per cent of female and 58 per cent of male respondents said they had consumed six or more “standard drinks” in one sitting in the last week. Drinking this much on one day is considered binge drinking, according to the HSE.
In Ireland, a standard drink or unit contains 10 grams of pure alcohol, equal to a 35.5ml pub measure of spirits, a small 125ml glass of wine, a half pint of standard strength beer, or a 275ml bottle of alcopop. A bottle of wine with a 12.5 per cent alcohol content contains about seven standard drinks.
More than half (52 per cent) of women said they had consumed 11 or more standard drinks in the past week, which is above the weekly low-risk limit recommended by the HSE for females.
This compares to 42 per cent of male respondents who admitted to exceeding the recommended weekly limit for men of 17 standard drinks in the last seven days. Almost one in three men said they had binge drunk in the past week.
An increasing number of Irish women are being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in their 30s and 40s as a result of heavy drinking at a young age, consultant hepatologist at Cork University Hospital Dr Orla Crosbie warned in an opinion piece for The Irish Times this week, ahead of an Alcohol Action Ireland conference on women's drinking habits in Dublin yesterday.
Many of them are not dependent on alcohol, she said, and are unaware that the amount they are consuming is above the recommended limit.
One-third of women said they were surprised at how many units they had consumed when they added them up for the survey, which was posted on irishtimes.com yesterday. More than 6,700 responses were received in 24 hours, 41 per cent of which were from women.
Just 5 per cent of the 2,725 women who answered had not had an alcoholic drink in the past week, less than the 6 per cent who drank alcohol on all seven days. Almost one-third of female respondents had a drink on four or more days.
Of those who binged, 42 per cent said it was a “typical week” for them, while six per cent said they would “usually consume more”.
Women aged 18 to 24 were most likely to have indulged in binge drinking, with 71 per cent consuming six or more drinks in one sitting. They did most of their drinking in a shorter period of time, with 60 per cent consuming alcohol only on one or two days of the past week.
Women aged over 60 were the least likely to have binged, with just 14 per cent admitting to it in the past week, though they were the most likely to consume alcohol regularly, with one in four saying they had a drink on all of the past seven days.
Chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland Suzanne Costello said although The Irish Times survey was conducted voluntarily among readers online, the results generally reflected the findings of the Irish Alcohol Diaries study, which was carried out among 6,000 people by the Health Research Board in 2013.
“In Ireland, 1.3 million people drink harmfully. We are the second-highest binge drinkers in Europe,” she said.
Figures from the World Health Organisation last year showed Ireland came a close second to Austria for binge drinking, with 39 per cent of Irish people admitting to binging in the past month.
“When we drink we binge. Women are increasingly drinking in a high-risk way, and the harms to women are disproportionate to the amount they drink compared to men,” Ms Costello said.
“Even though women might think that compared to men or compared to how other Irish women drink, they are not consuming a lot, they still could be drinking harmfully. They need to recognise there is no safe level of drinking, just low-risk and high-risk.”