An almost 17 per cent increase in the number of people returning for treatment over a five-year period reflects a growth in the number of cases of chronic alcohol problems, a new report suggests.
The Health Research Board report Treated problem alcohol use in Ireland: figures for 2012 from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System says more than 40,000 cases were treated for problem alcohol use between 2008 and 2012.
The total number of cases treated increased from 7,940 in 2008 to 8,604 in 2011 and then decreased to 8,336 in 2012.
But the number of previously treated cases grew from 3,606 in the first year of the study to 4,212 in 2012. The number of new cases treated was up by almost 18 per cent from 3,833 to 4,520 in 2011. That dropped to 4,028 the following year.
Two out of three of those presenting for treatment were male and the median age was 40.
The overall incidence of treated problem alcohol use among 15-64 year olds in Ireland rose from 119.7 per 100,000 of population to 141.2 in 2011 before declining to 125.1 in 2012.
Waterford, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Wexford saw the highest incidence of new cases in the five-year period.
All of these counties had more than 224 cases per 100,000 of the 15-64 year old population, the study said.
Incidence was lowest in Clare, Roscommon, Wicklow, Mayo and Meath, where each had fewer than 83 cases per 100,000.
Incomplete reporting, however, meant that some counties’ figures understated the number of cases presenting for treatment.
Author Dr Suzi Lyons of the Health Research Board said this could lead to inaccurate assessment in terms of need for services in a particular area.
One in five of those treated were using other drugs along with alcohol.
Of the 8,150 people treated in a specified HSE region, 11.6 per cent were using cannabis along with alcohol while nearly 5 per cent were using cocaine. Some 4.4 per cent were using benzodiazepines.
The authors said age 16 remained the median age that people in treatment started drinking – which is below the legal age. This has not changed for five years.
The proportion of cases in employment, however, has dropped from 30 per cent in the first year of the study to 20 per cent in 2012.
Chief executive of the Health Research Board, Graham Love, said the figures indicated the level of harmful drinking taking place in Ireland.
“The adoption of the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which includes the introduction of minimum pricing, the regulation of the marketing and advertising of alcohol, and the health labelling of alcohol products, should help address key areas of alcohol-harm reduction among Irish people,” he said.
HRB lead researcher, Dr Suzi Lyons said the decrease between 2011 and 2012 reflected a fall in the number of new cases presenting for the first time.
“However, there was an increase in the number of cases returning for treatment which reflects a growth in the number of cases with chronic alcohol use problems.”
Dr Lyons suggested the overall decrease could reflect “a drop in people presenting for treatment, levels of participation and reporting to the HRB by the services nationwide or a combination of both”.
She also said the main concern with using more than one drug was that it increased the complexity of cases and often led to poorer outcomes for the patient.
Separately, an alcohol industry group today noted alcohol consumption had declined year-on-year since 2001.
The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said we were now consuming 25 per cent less alcohol than we did 13 years ago.
Citing provisional Revenue figures published yesterday combined with CSO population data, it said average per adult alcohol consumption was 10.730 litres in 2013 compared with 11.615 in 2012, a decline of 7.6 per cent.
“The decline in spirits was greatest at 11.9 per cent, followed by wine, 8.9 per cent, beer 6.2 per cent and cider 2.5 per cent. Since its peak in 2001 the average per adult alcohol consumption has declined by 25.7 per cent.”
It said the 100,000 people employed in the drinks industry “do not want to see alcohol misused. “We want to be part of the solution.”
A national alcohol conference takes place at the Convention Centre in Dublin tomorrow, Wednesday. The event is part of Alcohol Awareness Week, which is co-ordinated by a number of organisations. Led by Alcohol Forum, other participants include Alcohol Action Ireland, Drugs.ie, Greater Blanchardstown Response to Drugs, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.