Irish people are drinking harmfully in massive numbers while heavily underestimating their consumption, according to a study by the Health Research Board.
Some 177,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers and 1.35 million are harmful drinkers, the board estimates based on consumption patterns recorded in its first National Alcohol Diary Survey.
Almost 6,000 people aged between 18 and 75 years were asked to record their alcohol consumption for the survey, as well as being quizzed about their prior drinking history and spending on alcohol. The result is the most detailed picture yet of Irish people’s relationship with alcohol – even though researchers believe it still underestimates the amount we consume.
The study reveals the harmful patterns underlying alcohol consumption in Ireland, with 75 per cent of all alcohol consumed as part of a binge drinking session and one in five drinkers saying they engage in weekly binge drinking.
Almost two-thirds of young people (18-24-year-olds) said they engaged in binge drinking in the previous year, defined as the consumption of at least six standard drinks in the one session. A standard drink is a glass of beer or a small glass of wine, so drinking more than three pints of beer counts as binge drinking.
More than half (54 per cent) of those surveyed were classified as harmful drinkers, equivalent to 1.35 million nationally.
One in eight men and almost one in 10 women drank their maximum recommended weekly guideline in one sitting in the week prior to the survey. Among young people, this rose to 28 per cent for men and 22 per cent for women.
The study estimates that we spend €50 million a week on alcohol, though this too is probably lower than the actual amount.
The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) welcomed the study but criticised the “broad approach” taken and the definition used for binge drinking, which it claimed was unhelpful in identifying those most at risk.
Both ABFI and the Royal College of Physicians called on the Government to focus on below-cost selling of alcohol; the college also said budget increases in excise must be in line with inflation.
Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the HRB, said the research showed Irish people are drinking more than they should, that their drinking patterns are harmful to themselves and to others and that they don't appear to realise they are overconsuming.
“The amount we drink and the way we drink determine alcohol-related harm. We are still consuming alcohol far above the HSE recommended low-risk levels. But what this report really shines a light on is the pattern of harmful drinking which raises serious concerns for public health.”
According to the report, we underestimate what we drink by about 60 per cent. “If this is the case, the situation is much worse than what has been presented in this report.”
Almost 30 per cent of drinkers said they suffered harm as a result of their alcohol use, including physical violence, damage to property and financial problems.