The Irish Times view on alcohol research: Heed the long-term dangers

The latest international study shows that cancers caused by alcohol can take years to develop

Can we finally shake off the unwelcome moniker of the drunken Irish? Yes and no according to a major international study on alcohol consumption. It found the drinking habits of Irish men are comparable to other Europeans but that Irish women consume the seventh highest level of “average daily drinks” in the world.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Burden of Disease Study looked at alcohol use and its impact on health in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. It found drinking was linked to 2.8 million deaths each year.

Cancers caused by alcohol can take many years to develop, with a time lag of 10 to 20 years not uncommon

The research, published in The Lancet, concluded there is no safe level of alcohol intake and the healthiest approach is to drink as little as possible. It said that over a single year, one alcoholic drink a day (10g of alcohol) increases the risk of developing one of 23 related health problems by 0.5 per cent. This rose to 7 per cent for those who had two drinks a day.

Europeans consume more drink than those in other regions; highest average amounts of daily drinks for men were in Romania (8.2 units), Portugal and Luxembourg (each at 7.2).For women, the highest consumption was in Ukraine (4.2), and Andorra Luxembourg and Belarus (all at 3.4). Irish women consumed 3.1 units per day on average.

The negative health impacts ascribed to alcohol by the researchers included organ and tissue damage, injuries and poisoning from intoxication, self-harm and violence. The study highlights how alcohol is associated with a wide range of cancers. For those aged 50 and older, cancer constituted 27 per cent of alcohol-related deaths in women and 19 per cent in men.

Cancers caused by alcohol can take many years to develop, with a time lag of 10 to 20 years not uncommon. Based on this, young women in Ireland may be at increased risk of breast cancer in the future. Most alcohol related cancers can be prevented by adhering to Department of Health guidelines. The maxim "less is good and none is best of all" represents good health advice.