There are more retail outlets in Ireland where you can purchase alcohol than fruit, vegetables or milk, a public health specialist has said.
According to Dr Declan Bedford, this startling fact provides some indication of Ireland's ambivalent attitude to drinking.
He noted that every seven hours, someone dies from an alcohol-related illness in this country and the average Irish adult who drinks consumes the equivalent of a bottle of vodka every week.
However, this problem is not just confined to adults. European research shows that half of Irish 15-16 year-olds have consumed alcohol in the last month, while one in four have been drunk in the same period.
"Children have told us that they find it easy to get alcohol and this is confirmed by research. One in four mid-teenagers bought alcohol in off-sales outlets and one in three consumed alcohol in a bar or disco in the past 30 days. Alcohol needs to be less available and more strictly controlled to protect our children," Dr Bedford insisted.
He noted that alcohol has a major impact on family life and relationships and is a factor in half of all suicides and one in four deaths involving young men. It also causes major problems for the health service.
"Anybody working in EDs (emergency departments) can testify to the number of alcohol related cases, many of them violent, who turn up on weekend nights and studies have estimated that one in every eight people attending an ED is there as a result of alcohol.
"Some 2,000 acute hospital beds every day are occupied by people who are there as a result of alcohol-related illness or injuries and admissions wholly attributable to alcohol have more than doubled since 1995," Dr Bedford explained.
Financially, alcohol-related harm costs the economy 3.7 billion per year. Dr Bedford said that averaged out over all alcohol consumption in this country, this means that every standard unit of alcohol consumed causes 85 cent worth of harm. He believes that the failure of successive governments to develop a national alcohol policy has had a ‘devastating' impact on Irish society.
"We need a national strategy that should include minimum pricing in Ireland to control the sales of alcohol at discount prices in supermarkets and other off-licences. The minimum price should cover at least the cost of the harm."
Dr Bedford made his comments while delivering the annual Irish Medical Organisation Doolin Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.
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