Report looks at impact of others' drinking

61% currently have heavy drinker in their life
  • Deborah Condon

Almost half of people in Ireland have experienced negative consequences due to the drinking habits of people they know, a major new report has revealed.

According to the findings, just over half of people have also experienced harm due to a stranger's drinking in the last year.

The report, The Untold Story: Harms Experienced in the Irish Population due to Others' Drinking, has been published by the HSE. It aims to show how alcohol consumption can have a major impact on the lives of those around the drinker.

It revealed that 44% of people have experienced negative consequences due to the drinking of people they know. The top three harms reported were being stressed, being called names/being insulted, and being harassed in a private setting.

The report also revealed that 51% of people have experienced harm due to a stranger's drinking in the last 12 months. Examples of this include sleep disturbances, being harassed on the streets and feeling unsafe in public places.

More women than men reported feeling unsafe in public places and being afraid when they encountered drinkers on the street, while more men than women reported being called names or being insulted by drinkers not known to them.

Meanwhile, according to the report, 16% of carers said that children for whom they have parental responsibility, had experienced harm because of someone else's drinking.

The most common harms to children were reported as being negatively affected (12%), being verbally abused (9%), witnessing serious violence in the home (4%) and not enough money for the child's needs (3%).

A further 14% of people reported work-related problems due to a co-workers' drinking. This included reduced productivity and people having to cover for a co-worker due to their alcohol consumption.

Overall, 61% said they currently had a heavy drinker in their life.

"Given that three in five people reported a known heavy drinker in their life, suggests the risk of harm from others' drinking is widespread in Irish society, with some of it hidden.

"Furthermore, the fear to personal safety due to strangers' drinking, especially in public spaces, can undermine a sense of community wellbeing and can be felt by both drinkers and non-drinker alike," commented one of the report's authors, Dr Ann Hope.

The total estimated cost to others as assessed in this report was €862.75 million. The biggest cost - over €456 million - is borne by the carers of drinkers.

However, the authors noted that the report did not estimate ‘the intangible costs', e.g. fear, suffering and loss of quality of life, ‘but these are clearly substantial'.

"For many years, the focus in discussing harms from drinking was on harms suffered by the drinker. Indeed, these harms are widespread and often severe. However, what has been missing from the picture is the burden that occasional or regular heavy drinking imposes directly on others at the interpersonal level.

"Others around the drinker, whatever their relationship with the drinker, are likely to be affected, often adversely, by changes in thinking, demeanour and behaviour which result from drinking," commented Prof Robin Room, professor of alcohol policy research at the University of Melbourne.

The authors hope that this report will be used to inform national policy around alcohol in Ireland.

"This report provides solid evidence that harms to others from drinking are at least as widespread and of comparable magnitude to the harms to drinkers themselves," said report author, Prof Joe Barry.

The report can be viewed here


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