There has been a surge over the last three months in alcohol-related calls to a HSE support line, with an almost 40% increase since June.
Contacts to the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline show that alcohol is the main drug causing problems for women aged over 20 and for men aged over 30.
Figures released to the Irish Examiner also show a large increase in calls relating to cocaine and tablet use, including anti-anxiety pills, in the July-September period.
The substantial increase in the third quarter of 2020 comes on the back of steep growth in alcohol calls since 2014 and a three-fold increase since 2017.
TCD Professor of Population Health Medicine Joe Barry said “cheap drink is a problem” and said the Government needs to “reduce the supply of drink between now and Christmas”.
Figures for 2020 show:
*Contacts for all substances fell from 1,042 in Q1 (Jan-March) to 912 in Q2 (April-June), rising dramatically to 1,325 in Q3 (July-Sept) – up 45% on Q2;
*Alcohol contacts increased from around 470 in Q1, to 490 in Q2 and to around 670 in Q3 – up 37% on Q2;
*Cocaine contacts fell from around 220 in Q1 to 170 in Q2, jumping to around 270 in Q3 – up 60% on Q2
A HSE statement said: "Alcohol in the main drug of use for men and women over 41 years of age and also for men between the ages of 31 and 40 years. Cocaine is the main drug of use for men aged between 21-30 years of age, but cannabis is more likely to be their main drug of use up to the age of 21.”
It added: “Women aged between 21 and 40 years are more likely to have issues around alcohol use than cannabis or cocaine.”
Overall, the totals for all substances increased from 2,928 contacts in 2017, to 4,300 contacts in 2018 and to 5,557 in 2019. There have been 3,279 contacts up to September of this year.
Prof Barry, a board member of Alcohol Action Ireland, said that while the overall figures have been increasing since 2014, it has been “particularly steep” for alcohol, rising from 750 in 2017 to around 2,150 in 2019.
He said that while there was now talk of reducing opening hours of off licences there had been little attention on the impact of alcohol consumption during Covid, including on mental health and domestic violence.
He said the fundamental problem was the “widespread availability of cheap alcohol”.
He said the medium-term solution was the introduction of minimum unit pricing but said that will not help with the immediate problem.
“The issue is can we reduce the supply of cheap drink between now and Christmas? I would say to the Government ‘what are you going to do about it’?"
*HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline Freephone 1800 459 459 or email firstname.lastname@example.org