Research conducted by a team of international academics puts Ireland in fourth place for the prevalence of heavy drinkers.
The findings, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, said that pre-drinking, also known as “pre-loading”, was linked with heavier drinking and negative alcohol-related consequences.
Alcohol Action Ireland said the survey confirmed that for many Irish people pre-drinking was part of “drinking to get drunk”.
The study was conducted in 25 countries — comprising 18 European states, along with the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia — using data from the Global Drugs Survey (GDS) 2015.
An analysis of 65,126 respondents, aged between 16 and 35, was conducted, including 1,883 people from Ireland. It found:
- 85% of Irish drinkers surveyed engaged in pre-drinking before a night out, compared to an average of 63% in the 25 countries;
- 81% of Irish adults drink (10th highest), compared to an average of 74%;
- 48% of Irish drinkers are heavy drinkers (fourth highest), compared to an average of 26%.
Irish rates of pre-drinking are significantly above other countries, with Norway the next highest at 80%. The rate is 75% in the UK, 67% in France and 51% in Italy.
The research was conducted by Florian Labhart of Addiction Switzerland Research Institute; Jason Ferris of the University of Queensland, Australia; Adam Winstock of University College London; and GDS and Emmanuel Kuntsche of Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
The study said research had shown that pre-drinking was “positively associated with heavier drinking behaviour and increased risks of negative alcohol- related consequences”.
“Results from respondents within 25 different countries, located on four continents, confirm the assumption that the practice of pre-drinking is prolific,” said the research, made public here by the Health Research Board.
It said the higher the prevalence of drinkers in a country, the higher the percentage of pre-drinkers.
“This result suggests that engagement in pre-drinking is partly sustained by the same cultural tendency to drink that underpins alcohol use in the general population,” said the report.
But it added: “However, although pre-drinking may look alike any other social drinking occasion, it usually precedes another drinking occasion where more alcohol is usually consumed, resulting in the consumption of particularly large amounts of alcohol over the night.”
It said measures could be taken within countries to “change the cultural acceptance” of pre-drinking.
Ireland, it found, had a strong relationship between the percentage of heavy drinkers and pre-drinking and a fairly strong relationship between general drinking prevalence and pre-drinking.
Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland said drinking habits here had changed dramatically in recent decades, with more drinking in the home, fuelled by low-price alcohol in supermarkets.
“The survey findings suggest that engagement in pre-drinking is partly sustained by the same cultural tendency to drink that underpins alcohol use in the general population, and in Ireland we know — and this survey confirms — that for many people this means pre-drinking is simply part of an exercise in drinking to get drunk and it is particularly popular among younger age groups as it can be achieved very quickly,” he said.
“We drink in a culture where excessive alcohol consumption has been normalised, as has the significant harm that it causes, including the loss of three lives every day.”