Irish three times more likely to binge-drink

THE average Irish adult drinks 13.4 litres of pure alcohol every year in a growing national trend of alcohol use and abuse.

By comparison, the European average is a little more than nine litres, while the Irish are also three times more likely to binge-drink — measured as having five or more drinks at one sitting — than the average European.

A study by the Health Research Board reveals the results of the country’s love affair with alcohol, finding that a minimum of 177 deaths are directly caused by drink each year.

Those who die of drink are unlikely to live past the age of 60, when normally only a fifth of the population die under the age of 65.

During 2005, more than 5,500 people were recorded as receiving specialist treatment for alcohol abuse and 2,995 were admitted to psychiatric units with an alcohol-related illness. However, the board says the actual numbers are higher as not every treatment facility contributes to the records.

Recorded figures also show that one in five people treated for alcohol abuse were using at least one other drug — most commonly cannabis but sometimes other stimulants and cocaine.

Dr Jean Long, head of the board’s alcohol and drug research unit, said: “This is increasingly common among young people.

“Eight percent of people treated for use of more than one drug were aged 17 or under. In comparison, just 1.6% of those treated for alcohol only were in this age group.”

Alcohol related criminal offences among under-18s increased by 135% in the five-year period from the year 2000.

The report also shows the changing patterns of drinking in Ireland in recent years with practically all of the 17% increase in the quantity of alcohol consumed between 1995 and 2006 being drunk in the form of wine.

Wine consumption increased by 170% while cider consumption rose 40%. The popularity of beer actually fell slightly over the same period and spirits are only marginally more commonly drunk than they were in 1995.

That trend is believed to be influenced by the increase in drinking among young people, with 54% of boys aged 15-17 and 50% of girls in the same age group regularly consuming alcohol. About a third of both sexes regularly binge-drinking.

Dr Long warned that the trend would lead to further increases in illness and deaths from alcohol as it usually took a prolonged period of hazardous drinking to cause serious illnesses.

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