Drink abuse failure ‘will mean more suicides’

Many lives will be lost unnecessarily to suicide and many others will self-harm due to the Government’s slow reaction to addressing the problem of alcohol abuse in Ireland, a leading suicide expert has warned.

UCC lecturer and the director of research at the National Suicide Research Foundation, Professor Ella Arensman yesterday expressed disappointment at the Government’s proposed target of 2020 for the ban on sponsorship of sports by alcohol firms.

“That is far too late. We will lose so many more lives and face so many more people in emergency departments,” said Prof Arensman.

Speaking at an Alcohol Action Ireland conference entitled Facing the Fear: Alcohol and Mental Health in Ireland, Prof Arensman said immediate actions were needed to address the undisputed link between alcohol and increased incidence of self-harm and suicide.

A sponsorship ban can’t hurt sports more than alcohol can, Prof Arensman said, adding the “commercially enforced links” between alcohol and sport needed to be broken.

Research by the NSRF showed that an average of 33 patients present with evidence of self-harm each day in Irish hospitals.

Prof Arensman called for the urgent intensification of national strategies to reduce access to alcohol and to increase awareness of the risks involved in the use and misuse of alcohol.

She also recommended more active consultation and collaboration between mental health and addictions services in organising treatment for patients who presented with the dual diagnoses of psychiatric disorders and alcohol or drug abuse.

Prof Arensman said it was disappointing that only 10% of nurses in hospital emergency departments had received training in the assessment and management of self-harm.

The conference heard that alcohol causes increases of self-harm at specific times. Five out of six days when the daily average of patients reporting with self-harm injuries exceeded 50 was either a public holiday or the day after, Prof Arensman noted.

Alcohol was also a factor in July and August when there was a peak recorded in self-harm among women.

The NSRF recorded more than 12,000 presentations of self-harm involving 9,483 individuals at Irish hospitals last year. Alcohol was a factor in 38% of such cases, the conference heard.

Dr Bobby Smyth, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, said there was a decrease in the prevalence of parents setting clear rules for their children as well as parental monitoring with a potential negative impact on the risk of their children experiencing alcohol-related problems.

On the other hand, he said parents were demonstrating greater warmth and affection and enjoying better communications with their children.

Dr Smyth stressed that there was no benefit in introducing alcohol to children at an early age even in a controlled environment.

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