Four in 10 women drink excessively


MORE THAN 50 per cent of Irish people are drinking alcohol harmfully, with older people and women especially at risk, research published today has found.

An analysis of data from the 2007 Slán lifestyle study suggests some four in 10 women are drinking excessively over an extended period, with seven in 10 men also at risk from this pattern of alcohol intake.

Much of the recent focus of alcohol research and prevention programmes has been on binge drinking in young people. While this remains a problem – a quarter of 18-29 year olds report drinking nine or more standard drinks in a typical session – this latest data suggests middle-aged and older people are exceeding recommended weekly intake limits on a continued basis.

Current guidelines advise that women not exceed 14 standard drinks per week, while men should limit themselves to 21 units over a seven-day period. A standard drink is a glass of wine, a glass of beer or a standard measure of spirits.

According to lead author and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) psychology lecturer, Dr Karen Morgan, a pattern of chronically exceeding these limits leads to health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and certain cancers, even in people who are not considered alcohol dependent. “People are not very good at judging units; we know they underestimate how much they drink,” she noted.

Slán 2007, completed by the RCSI in partnership with NUI Galway, UCC and the ESRI, surveyed more than 10,000 people aged 18 and over by means of a questionnaire asking about lifestyle issues such as smoking, drinking, diet and exercise.

In this analysis, the researchers focused on three questions about alcohol intake. The Audit- C test is widely used in clinical practice as a screening device for problem drinking. With a maximum score of 12, anyone scoring more than five was deemed as having a positive test.

They discovered 56 per cent of Irish people reported a harmful pattern of drinking. Among this group, just 16 per cent recognised that their drinking had harmed their health, suggesting a low level of public awareness of alcohol-related harm.

In an interesting finding that is being analysed further, Dr Morgan said the Slán researchers have found that drinkers who are categorised as being highly physically active are more likely to binge drink than those who are physically active at low or moderate levels.

“Conversely, drinkers who binge are more active than drinkers who don’t binge. This data is very complex, however, and we need to consider issues such as age and social class in order to get the full picture,” she said.

Slán project director Prof Hannah McGee from RCSI commented: “How we drink alcohol has changed dramatically in Ireland in the last decade. Interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm will take time and resources to implement. We need effective monitoring to evaluate the impact of these interventions.”

Meanwhile, The Irish Timeshas learned that for the first time alcohol is to be included in the Government’s National Substance Misuse Strategy.