Overview of Alcohol-related harm facts and statistics

Ireland has a real and growing problem with alcohol.  The European Commission Attitudes Towards Alcohol  report published in 2007 found that while 19% of Germans for example drink more than the recommended safe amount, "at the top of the country scale by a long amount is Ireland" with 36% drinking above the limit, and a further 34% drinking excessively above it.   That is a total of 72% of Irish people regularly overdoing it. Conversely, while in most countries the number who had not drunk 4 or 5 drinks at a session over the last year averaged 31% and in many cases topped 40%, Ireland was way behind with only 11% not having 'binged' during the year.  Meanwhile the number of people who reported having been involved in heavy drinking sessions every week averaged 15% across Europe.  Ireland was again top of the poll, way ahead of the other countries, with 37% drinking to excess every week.


The World Health Organisation reported  this year on alcohol drinking patterns across the globe based on 2008 figures.  In that survey Ireland rated higher than the European average of 12.2 litres consumption of pure alcohol per person - with 13.4 litres being the average here.  In the context of these averages Ireland has been allocated a risk factor of 3 out of a possible 5 for alcohol attributable disease. In addition to its high consumption rates, Ireland has also been given a high risk rating by the WHO for dangerous patterns of drinking (frequency, bingeing, mixing etc.).

However, when the 25% of total abstainers are removed from the ranking, consumption in the drinking population is much higher again - with male Irish drinkers consuming an average of 26.5 litres (more than twice the European average) - putting many of them at high risk of health problems or injury to themselves or others.  The WHO also notes Ireland's failure to put legal limits on sponsorship and product placement.  The law preventing sales of alcohol to intoxicated people is clearly weakly enforced.  

A report by the Health Research Board in 2009 concludes that:

'People in Ireland engage in drinking patterns that are excessive and problematic, with risky drinking now the norm for a substantial proportion of people'.
The report also notes that:
'Over half (54%) of respondents in Ireland stated they consumed at least five drinks on one occasion at least weekly, compared to a European average of 28% (TNS Opinion & Social 2007). This suggests that 2.14 million [half the population] - Irish adults engage in risky drinking each year'.
Fueling this growing problem is an industry-led lobby which persuaded government to approve a 70% rise in sales outlets and off licences between 2001 and 2003, longer opening hours and the wider availabilty of cheaper alcohol in supermarkets and garages. The corresponding need for research on the social effects of drinking is underfunded and as the Health Research Board concludes, there is an 'urgent need for the introduction of a co-ordinated national alcohol strategy'.  Given the seriousness of the problem in Ireland, the fact that there is still no national strategy suggests wilful neglect. 

Because of pressures caused by the recession the real figures for alcohol consumption may well have increased since the WHO survey.  There is a growing concern about teenage drinking.  While sales of beer have declined, overall alcohol sales are up, with wine sales in particular rising since 2002 to 20% of sales, suggesting an increase in the number of Irish women drinking.  Cancer risks, the impact of drinking on children and the relationhsip between alcohol and suicide are amongst a number of other concerns associated with these unsettling WHO and Health Research Board figures. Although there are many areas needing more research,  Alcohol Action Ireland (the national charity for information and awareness about alcohol related issues) - has produced the following summary of statistics from the best availabe data .

How much do we drink?
  • Over half of all Irish drinkers have a harmful pattern of drinking, that’s 4 in 10 women and 7 in 10 men who drink
  • A higher proportion of Irish women who drink compared with women in other European countries (77% compared to 68%)
  • The average amount of alcohol consumed by every person in the country aged 15+ was 12.4 litres of pure alcohol in 2008. This amounts to 490 pints or 129 bottles of wine or 46 bottles of vodka per adult
  • When we consider the above statistics alongside the fact that one in five adults in Ireland don’t drink alcohol, it means that those who do drink are consuming much more than consumption statistics show
  • Alcohol consumption in Ireland increased by 46% between 1987 (9.8 litres) and 2001 (14.3 litres) when our consumption reached a record high
  • Consumption has been falling since this peak in 2001, to 12.4 litres in 2008
  • Even at current levels we are still drinking 20% above the levels we drank at in 1986/1987
  • Ireland continues to rank among the highest consumers of alcohol in the 26 countries in the enlarged EU. We drink about 20% more than the average European
How much do children and young people drink?
  • In the most recent survey of drinking among European 15 and 16‑year‑olds more Irish girls (44%) than boys (42%) reported binge-drinking in the last month  (2007 ESPAD survey)
  • Over half reported being drunk at least once by the age of 16
  • The survey identified “a major issue around drunkeness”
  • A recent report by the Office of Tobacco Control (2006) revealed that our 16 to 17‑year‑olds spend an average of €20·09+ per week on alcohol. This amounts to an illegal alcohol market of €145m in this country
Alcohol and Driving
  • Drink driving offences increased by 74% between 203 and 2007, from 11,421 to 19,864
  • In the period from 2003 to 2005, approximately 120 people were killed each year in alcohol-related crashes
  • In the same period, almost one third (31%) of crash deaths were alcohol-related
  • Where Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels were available for drivers killed, almost six out of ten had alcohol in their blood
  • One in every six drivers with alcohol in their blood, who were responsible for fatal crashes in 2003, were not above the legal limit
Alcohol and Families
  • Between 61,000 and 104,000 children aged under 15 in Ireland are estimated to be living with parents who misuse alcohol
  • A study of women who attended the Coombe Women’s Hospital found that almost two‑thirds (63%) of the 43,318 women surveyed said they drank alcohol during their pregnancy. Alcohol consumption, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy, can lead to disorders in how the brain develops in the womb
Alcohol, Mental Health and Suicide
  • Alcohol‑related disorders were the third most common reason for admission to Irish psychiatric hospitals between 1996 and 2005
  • Alcohol use is often a factor in suicidal behaviour. In 2006/2007 alcohol was a factor in 41% of all cases of deliberate self-harm
  • One Irish study of people from three counties who died as a result of suicide, found that more than half had alcohol in their blood
Alcohol and Crime
  • Alcohol-related offences increased by 30% between 2003 and 2007, from 50,948 to 66,406
  • Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed
  • Alcohol was found to be a factor in almost half of all cases of sexual assaults on adults according to a major survey of sexual assault and violence in Ireland. In such cases, where only one party had been drinking, the perpetrator of the sexual assault was the one drinking in the majority of cases (84% of female and 70% of male sexual assault cases)
  • Alcohol was identified as a potential trigger for abuse in one third of domestic abuse cases. Alcohol is considered a contributory factor and stressor in domestic violence
Alcohol and Injuries

  • More than one in four of those attending accident and emergency departments have alcohol‑related injuries, almost half of which occurred to people aged under 30 years
  • Alcohol is a factor in one in four traumatic brain injuries
Alcohol and Health
  • Hospital discharges for alcohol-related liver disease increased by 147% between 1995 and 2004
  • Alcohol-related deaths also increased during the same period, from 3.8 deaths per 100,000 to 7.1 deaths per 100,000
  • Many cancers, including cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum and female breast, are causally related to alcohol consumption
  • Cancer of the liver has had the highest rate of increase of all cancer types between 1994 and 2003, increasing by 10.7% for females and 7.4% for males, compared to an increase for all cancers of 1.1% for females and 1.1% for males
  • There is a risk relationship between the amount a woman drinks, and the likelihood of her developing the most common type of breast cancer. Drinking one standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 9% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, while drinking 3‑6 standard drinks a day increases the risk by 41%
  • High levels of alcohol use and heavy drinking among young women are reflected in the fact that one in four women discharged from hospital for alcohol‑related conditions were aged under 30, compared to 17% of men under 30 discharged
  • Between 1995 and 2004, there was an increase of 29% in the proportion of teenage girls aged under 18 discharged from hospital for alcohol‑related conditions compared to an increase of 9% for males under 18
Source: Alcohol Action Ireland.
Main sources:
Barry S, Kearney A, Lawlor E, McNamee E and Barry J (2006) The Coombe Women’s Hospital study of alcohol, smoking and illicit drug use, 1988–2005. Dublin: Coombe Women’s Hospital; Bedford D (2008) Drink Driving in Ireland. Presentation made at conference organised by the Road Safety Authority; Eurocare/COFACE (1998) Alcohol Problems in the Family: A Report to the European Union. England: Eurocare; Hope A (2008) Alcohol Related Harm In Ireland: Health Services Executive – Alcohol Implementation Group; Hope A (2007) Alcohol Consumption in Ireland 1986-2006. Health Services Executive – Alcohol Implementation Group; Mongan et al (2007) Health Related Consequences of Problem Alcohol Use. Overview 6. Dublin: Health Research Board; National Suicide Research Foundation (2008) National Registry of Deliberate Self-harm Ireland, Annual Report 2006-2007