Fresh light cast on our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol
Latest study packs a punch with its figures around binge drinking
Binge drinking is defined as more than three pints in the one night out. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire
There have been so many reports on alcohol harm in recent years that it is hard to think that any new research would have the capacity to shock. Yet this latest study by the Health Research Board still manages to pack a punch by casting fresh light on our dysfunctional relationship with drink.
We may be strangers to the World Cup and underperforming economically but as the report demonstrates we remain world leaders in the sport of binge drinking. Three-quarters of all alcohol consumption occurred during binge-drinking sessions, and one-fifth of us binge drink at least once a week.
And yes, binge drinking is defined as more than three pints in the one night out. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Irish people still have a problem accepting this as a realistic threshold, despite the fact that this is the accepted definition used by the European Commission.
Using this definition, the study arrives at a figure of 177,000 “dependent drinkers” nationally.
The report also sets out the harmful effects of alcohol use, experienced by 1.35 million of us. Here are some snippets which give an indication of the trail of destruction that alcohol leaves in its wake: 23 per cent of young men have been in a physical fight related to their drinking, and 16.4 per cent have been assaulted by a person who was drinking; 20 per cent of people said their finances had been harmed; and 7 per cent had been in an accident.
The research base for supporting initiatives against alcohol abuse is complete now, but for some years action has been stalled as Cabinet Ministers row over the content of a legislative package. The row over sports and arts sponsorship by drinks companies has been kicked to touch, but it’s harder to see why no action has been taken to target the cheap alcohol that is the mainstay of binge drinking.
Putting a minimum floor on the price of a unit of alcohol would have little effect on moderate drinkers, the mainstream drinks industry or pubs, yet the Government has prevaricated while legal issues are thrashed out in other jurisdictions. A health impact assessment is being carried out on the island of Ireland and legislation is promised shortly.