Alcohol abuse still on rise in Ireland – along with cannabis and cocaine

Median age of those entering alcohol treatment in 2019 was 41, almost two-thirds men

Many people now seeking help for alcohol addiction are drinking more in a day that they should be in a week under recommended weekly alcohol limits, the Health Research Board has warned.

Seven-in-ten people do not come for help until their addiction is already "severe which makes treatment more complex and recovery more difficult", said Dr Suzi Lyons, senior HRB researcher.

Last year, 7,546 cases were treated, up from 7,464 in 2018, though some addicts could be counted more than once during the year. Of these, 5,100 were deemed as “alcohol dependent”, a rise of 16% on the year.

Under HRB guidelines, men should drink no more than 17 standard measures s a week – a half a pint of regular beer (10 grams of pure alcohol), a 100 mls glass of wine or a pub measure (35mls) of spirits.


Women, meanwhile, should have no more than 11 standard drinks in a week. It is recommended the drinks for both men and women should be spaced out over the week, with two to three alcohol-free days per week.

The median number of standard drinks consumed on a typical drinking day was 15 for women and 20 for me, while the median age at which people start drinking remains at 16.

The HRB also found that “there is a steady increase in the number of cases presenting with problem use of cocaine as an additional drug, up from 458 in 2013 to 844 in 2019”.

Meanwhile, 1,570 cases of alcohol and drugs use were treated last year. Cannabis was involved in 881 cases last year, down from 1,008 in 2013 , and cocaine in 844 more, up from 458 in 2013.

Pointing to the danger of mixing alcohol and narcotic drugs, Dr Lyons said it is of “particular concern because mixing cocaine and alcohol can result in greater physical harm and more severe side-effects”.

Cocaine is increasingly replacing other drugs. Over the same period, the number of cases reporting cannabis, benzodiazepines and opioids as additional problem drugs has been declining since 2013.

The median age of cases entering alcohol treatment in 2019 was 41. Two thirds are men, and half are unemployed. More than 650 were homeless before they entered treatment.

The number of Travellers seeking treatment has risen from 144 in 2013 to 178 in 2019, while the number of those under 18 has fallen, from 220 in 2013 to 107 in 2019.

Preferred drinks for men were beer (43 per cent of cases), spirits (37 per cent) and wine (9 per cent), whereas for women it was wine (35 per cent, spirits (35 per cent) followed by beer (19 per cent).

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times