Few know or care about safe drinking, report shows

More than a third of under-25s are binge-drinking on a weekly basis, a new report on the country’s drinking habits has found. However, few of them will know that they are courting trouble because hardly anyone surveyed for the report knew the guideline weekly limits for safe alcohol consumption or how many drinks constituted a binge.

Just 20 out of the 1,000 adults questioned were able to identify the limits as 11 standard drinks for women or 17 for men, spread out over the week, or knew that six or more standard drinks in one sitting is classified as a binge. Half of those questioned declined to even attempt the question, most stating they did not know what a standard drink was.

The finding that so few understood safe drinking levels is described as a “red flag” by the Drinkaware group which commissioned the study. Chief executive Sheena Horgan said the study exposes “the collective complacency and cultural acceptance surrounding Irish drinking patterns”.

Ms Horgan said:

If the volume and frequency of alcohol consumption is to be addressed, this knowledge needs to be embedded

The report reveals that 44% of the population drink weekly and one in five of all adult drinkers drink seven or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion. On average, they experienced 16 such occasions in the past year.

Men are more likely to have more such occasions — 22 in the previous year compared to 10 for women. For under-25s, the number of such occasions rose to 28 — more than once a fortnight.

Some 34% of under-25s binge-drink weekly, as do 18% of 25-34 year-olds. For all age groups, the quantity and frequency of their drinking put 21% of the population into the category of hazardous drinkers and 23% into the category of borderline or at risk of becoming hazardous.

Yet 84% say they do not drink to excess and 46% strongly disagree that they should cut down on their drinking. Drinking to excess is just part of Irish culture, according to 70% of those surveyed, while half say drinking to excess at some stage is no big deal.

However, when probed further, the reasons people give for drinking signals a more complicated relationship with alcohol.

Half of all drinkers say they often drink as a coping mechanism — to cheer them up or alleviate stress — but that rises to 64% in the under-25 age group. The under-25s have also started drinking earlier than the generations ahead of them, having their first drink at 14 compared to 16 for the over 55s.

“There is an “urgent need to support the under-25s from continuing along the current misuse trajectory,” the report states.

Drinkaware is funded by the drinks industry and the grocery sector but says its governance structure ensures its independence is not compromised. Its report recommends that a national conversation on hazardous drinking take place, incorporating a particular emphasis on young drinkers, men, and drinking at home.

One of the findings shows that 15% of all drinkers regularly drink alone at home.

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