‘Government ignores huge harm drink does to society’

NOT one, not two – but three major reports in the past two months have shown the chronic and harmful effects that alcohol is having on our society.

But despite this, it seems our Government has chosen to ignore all the evidence, and, following reports that tell us rape and crime are linked to over-consumption, as well as being detrimental to family life and health, has moved to cut the price of alcohol, which research shows is directly linked to an increase in consumption.

It was unfortunate that the Health Research Board’s report, Social Consequences of Harmful Use of Alcohol in Ireland, came in same week as widespread flooding and the Murphy report on child sex abuse by clerics.

It garnered little media attention, perhaps too because we no longer find it shocking that alcohol-related social problems, such as violence, public disturbance, poor work performance and family problems, are imposing such a serious burden on society.

Another sad indictment of our culture.

The HRB report found alcohol-related offences such as public disorder and assault rose by 30%, from 50,948 in 2003 to 66,406 in 2007. It told us drink-driving offences had increased by 74% between 2003 – 2007, from 11,421 to 19,864. And that men accounted for 90% of drink-driving offenders.

Other alcohol-related offences such as drunkenness, public disorder and assault rose by 30%, from 50,948 in 2003 to 66,406 in 2007, the study found.

The typical offender was a young man aged 24 years or under. Half of all offences were committed at the weekend – and just under half of adult offences occurred between midnight and 4am, with a peak at 2am.

Another report a week later – the Slán report, a profile of drinking patterns and alcohol-related harm, barely got a mention in the media. It found over half of all drinkers reported a harmful pattern of drinking, a situation, it says, that requires attention.

It also highlights the importance of considering, in particular, the age and gender differences in drinking patterns. It states targeted approaches to reducing harm are required for younger adults and women in particular. And that the majority of drinkers who binge may not be aware that their drinking may be harming their health. This is particularly true of middle-aged and older drinkers, and the report says, their perceptions of “safe” drinking limits and the health risks of excessive consumption need to be explored and targeted.

The third report, Rape and Justice in Ireland, was perhaps the most shocking and did receive the attention it deserved.

It told us alcohol has been identified as having a major role in the majority of rape cases, with victims and perpetrators likely to be drunk at the time of the attack.

In all 70% of victims had some drink taken when they were raped and according to victims, a quarter of perpetrators had consumed a lot of alcohol at the time of the offence. Files that reached the Director of Public Prosecutions revealed 45% of victims were severely intoxicated at the time of the attack – another 20% were moderately drunk.

The following day, the Government announced an excise cut which will result in reduced alcohol prices.

Never mind that international evidence is substantive and clear and tells us that the most cost effective strategies to reduce harm are making alcohol more expensive and less available.

Clíona Murphy, acting director of Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, said she is baffled by the decision to cut excise on alcohol, a luxury item. Ms Murphy said cutting excise is a decision that will cost us dearly both in human and in economic terms.

According to AAI between 60,000 to 100,000 children in Ireland live in families adversely affected by parental alcohol problems. She said the Government had chosen to stimulate the growth of alcohol-related harms and costs, to increase the alcohol-related burden on essential services already under strain: our health services; emergency services and social services.

Budgets are about choices and priorities, so the formulators of Budget 2010 chose to increase the burden borne by children, families and communities already struggling to cope with the effects of harmful alcohol use by more than half of all Irish drinkers.


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