Ireland has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption and heavy drinking in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation. But Ireland has lower rates of deaths attributed to alcohol than most countries – and that rate has fallen in the last six years.
In a major research, the WHO said that among current drinkers the average weekly alcohol consumption levels across 30 European states was equivalent to more than two bottles of wine, whereas Ireland's is closer to two and a half bottles of wine.
The WHO report on alcohol consumption in Europe found there had been a decrease in total average drinking levels across the countries, but said it was not statistically significant. It dropped from 11.5 litres of pure alcohol per person in 2010 to 11.3 litres in 2016.
The report said that 11.3 litres of pure alcohol per person was the same as 170 grams of pure alcohol per week, which it said was “equivalent to more than two bottles of wine”.
The agency said Ireland had a consumption level of between 12 and 13 litres a week, suggesting Ireland's equivalent consumption rate was closer to two and a half bottles of wine per week.
The report said consumption levels increased in 17 countries and decreased in 13. Parallel with an overall drop in consumption and a decrease in people describing themselves as current drinkers, the study found an increase in quantities of alcohol consumed by current drinkers.
It said the average across the 30 countries was 15.7 litres per current drinker, which was more than three bottles of wine per week. The WHO said that countries with the “highest level of consumption” included Ireland, along with France, Germany, Romania and the Baltic states.
Countries with the highest percentages of people describing themselves as current drinkers were Ireland and Switzerland.
Ireland was behind the three Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg for “heavy episodic drinking”, described as drinking more than 60 grams of pure alcohol (around two-thirds of a bottle of wine) in one drinking session at least once in the last 30 days. The rate in Ireland was between 37.5% and 40% of all adults over 15 years of age.
Generally across the 30 countries, the research found that the average level of drinking in 2016 was nearly four times higher among men than women. The gap was greatest in older age groups and the smallest among adolescents and young adults.
The report found that cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis and injuries were the main causes of death attributed to alcohol. Cancer accounted for about 30% of deaths, liver cirrhosis 20% and cardiovascular disease 19%.
Rates of alcohol-related cardiovascular disease were much higher in women, while alcohol-related deaths caused by injuries were higher among men. It said the proportion of all alcohol-related deaths was much higher among young age groups.
Alcohol-related deaths were higher in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States and lower in Western Europe, including Ireland, with the rate decreasing here since 2010. The WHO said that to maintain reductions in alcohol-attributable harm that countries needed to “step up” implementation of policies to tackle the harms.