The HSE and the College of Psychiatry in Ireland have now called for the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, a ban on all alcohol advertising — including sponsorship — and a reduction in the number of outlets selling drink.
Speaking before the Oireachtas health committee, Dr Declan Bedford said at least 1,250 people die every year from alcohol.
Dr Bedford, director of public health in the north east, said 2,000 acute hospital beds were occupied each night as a result of alcohol, and that admissions doubled between 1995 and 2008.
“Alcohol kills at least one person in Ireland every seven hours.
“Alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides in Ireland and alcohol was consumed in four out of 10 episodes of self harm in Ireland in 2010.”
He said the number of acute beds taken up as a result of alcohol came at a time when the budget “cut funding to the health services”.
Committee member, Senator John Crown, said if the alcohol factor was removed it would “probably end most of the waiting lists” in hospitals.
Dr Bedford said other research showed:
* Alcoholic liver disease rates and deaths almost trebled between 1995 and 2007, with considerable increases among 15 to 34-year-olds.
* Alcohol was the main drug responsible for 7,920 admissions to specialist addiction centres in 2008 and 1,798 admissions to mental hospitals in 2010.
* Alcohol was a trigger in one third of domestic violence cases.
* Low levels of alcohol consumption have been associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk.
“It is worth noting that most of these harms occur not in alcoholics or people with alcohol dependence but rather among regular drinkers who drink at hazardous or harmful levels — unfortunately over 50% of all drinkers,” he said.
Dr Anthony McCarthy of the College of Psychiatry said Ireland was a “very sick society” in terms of its attitude to, and use of, alcohol.
Dr McCarthy, who works in the National Maternity Hospital, said alcohol posed a significant danger to pregnant women who do not yet realise they are pregnant.
He said: “50% of all pregnancies are unplanned in terms of timing. Because a lot women are drinking so much, getting hammered, in the first four to five weeks when they don’t know they are pregnant, most of the damage is already done before the woman knows she’s pregnant.”
Dr Joe Barry, a public health specialist at the HSE, said the forthcoming national substance misuse strategy would aim for a 15% reduction in alcohol consumption over the next four years.