Concern at 'major shift' to home drinking during the pandemic

Concern at 'major shift' to home drinking during the pandemic

Figures suggest a 'major shift to home drinking during the pandemic', reflected in a 12% increase in wine consumption and a 17% drop in beer consumption. 

The State’s top health experts are concerned there has been a “major shift” to home drinking during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Health Research Board (HRB) is particularly worried about the impact on children of an increase in parental drinking.

A major 175-page study by the HRB also details the worsening impact alcohol is now having on Irish people compared to the 1990s including:

  • A doubling in alcohol-related discharges from hospitals between 1995 and 2018;
  • A trebling of cases of alcohol-related liver disease, with the sharpest increase among young people aged 15 to 34 and those aged over 65;
  • 1,094 alcohol-related deaths in 2017 — on average three per day — compared to 1,080 in 2008;

The HRB points to figures published by Revenue last month which showed that, despite pubs being closed for most of 2020, alcohol consumption only fell by 6.5% to 10.1 litres per person in 2020, down from 10.8 litres in 2019.

Its report said this suggests a “major shift to home drinking during the pandemic”, reflected in a 12% increase in wine consumption and a 17% drop in beer consumption. 

The HRB said industry research previously found a “steep increase” in off-licence sales since the restrictions were first introduced in March 2020.

It pointed to CSO research which found that almost a quarter of people reported increasing their alcohol consumption.

While more males said they had reduced rather than increased their drinking (26% versus 21%), far more females said their consumption had increased (23%) than fallen (9%).

The HRB said it is concerned at findings that households with children have the highest proportion of people reporting an increase in their drinking (27%).

“Children are adversely affected by even non-dependent levels of alcohol consumption, and parental drinking is a predictor of earlier initiation and harmful drinking patterns among adolescents,” the report said.

The study said there are also indications some family members may be using alcohol as a 'coping mechanism' to deal with stress and conflict and said research shows children are more likely to experience harm from a parent’s drinking if the parent’s motivations are negative.

Weighing up all the factors, the HRB said the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol here "should be an important priority".

Report co-author and HRB research officer Deirdre Mongan said: “While it is still too early to tell the full impact of the change in drinking habits due to the pandemic, all signs point to substituting drinking in on-trade premises with drinking at home. 

"This is concerning in particular for households with children, as research shows that children exposed to parental drinking at high levels are vulnerable to adverse outcomes.” 

The report said Irish people’s consumption of alcohol — at 10.8 litres of pure alcohol a year in 2019 — was still “significantly higher” that the Government’s 2020 target, of 9.1 litres.

It said people's average intake in 2019 is equivalent to 40 bottles of vodka, 113 bottles of wine or 436 pints of beer — but that given one in four people in Ireland don’t drink alcohol, the actual consumption rate for drinkers is much higher.

  • HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline: 1800 459 459 or email helpline@hse.ie

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