Majority of people know a problem drinker, report says

Ireland’s drinking habit has become almost €1bn-a-year headache, with vast sums of money lost on caring for problem drinkers, cleaning up after their mistakes, covering for them at work, and taking over their child-rearing responsibilities.

However, the €862,748,424 estimated annual cost of harmful drinking is only one measure of the damage caused. A new report lays bare the hidden misery of dealing with problem drinking from the perspective of those left to pick up the pieces at home, at work, and in their neighbourhoods.

Commissioned by the HSE and compiled from a survey of 2,000 people, the report, ‘The Untold Story: Harms Experienced in the Irish Population due to Others’ Drinking’, found that the majority of Irish people (61%) have a heavy drinker in their lives.

It also found that:

  • Most of those people, and 44% of the overall general public, were directly negatively affected or harmed in some way by that person’s drinking;
  • Half of all people (51%) were disturbed or frightened by a stranger’s drinking in the past 12 months;
  • One in six parents and guardians (16%) reported that a child in their care was directly negatively affected by someone else’s drinking;
  • One in seven workers (14%) were either prevented from doing their job properly because of someone else’s drinking or had to work longer hours to make up for that person’s absenteeism.

The report authors put figures on the economic costs that stem from drinking in terms of chronic illness, emergency care, crime, road accidents, absenteeism, damage to personal items, the drain on family finances and costs to the health services.

However, their main concern is the harder-to-calculate costs of stress, anxiety, fear, depression, disturbed sleep, harassment, verbal and psychological abuse, loss of security, and damage to family life that comes with having to live with or deal with problem drinkers.

For many children, having a heavy drinker in their lives routinely means suffering verbal abuse and criticism, witnessing violence in the home, or being deprived of basic comforts because the family income is wasted on drink.

Robin Room, professor of alcohol policy research at University of Melbourne, described the report as one of the most detailed ever carried out on the subject.

“The focus to date has been on the harm suffered by the drinker,” said Prof Room. “What has been missing from the picture is the burden imposed on others.”

He noted that what the report shows is that “harms to others from drinking are at least as widespread as the harms to drinkers themselves and are of comparable magnitude”.

Eunan McKinney, head of communications with Alcohol Action Ireland, said the findings provide a clear insight into the scale of alcohol harm to others.

“For too long, the harms experienced has been passively disregarded,” he said. “This report demonstrates not only the tangible impacts on the many but also the significant psychological impacts felt today and harboured for the future.”


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