Binge drinking is 'the norm' in Ireland

By Deborah Condon

Irish men drink three times as much alcohol as Irish women and almost half binge drink at least once a week, the results of a major new study into Ireland's drinking culture have revealed.

The study compared Ireland's drinking habits with those of six other European countries known as the ECAS countries; Finland, Sweden, Germany, Britain, France and Italy.

Researchers found that Irish drinkers consume 12.1 litres of pure alcohol per year, which is almost twice the level reported in most of the ECAS countries, the only exception being Britain, with nine litres.

Irish men drink around three times as much as women and are also less likely to abstain from alcohol.

The study found that a drinking occasion in Ireland involves binge drinking more often than in any of the ECAS countries.

Almost half of men (48%) and 16% of women binge drink at least once a week. The corresponding figures for Britain, which has the highest level of binge drinking among the ECAS countries is 38% for men and 12% for women.

"When frequency of binge drinking occasions are related to the overall number of drinking occasions, the results show that out of 100 drinking events, 58 end up in binge drinking for men and 30 for women", the study found.

These results suggest that in Ireland, binge drinking is the norm among men and occurs in about a third of the drinking occasions of women. However among both men and women, binge drinking is most common in the youngest age group and declines with age, the researchers said.

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The study also highlighted the fact that there are more problems per drinker in Ireland. Irish men have higher rates of acute adverse problems in comparison to the other countries, with 32% 'having regretted things said or done after drinking' and 11.5% having 'got into a fight' - this is three times the average. Other problems include adverse consequences with work/studies and problems with their home life.

Female drinkers also experience relatively high rates of adverse consequences, with a high prevalence (22%) reporting 'having regretted things said or done after drinking'. Fights and accidents among Irish female drinkers were over twice the average, compared to the other countries.

The results of this study were published by the Department of Health to coincide with the launch of the final phase of the Government's national alcohol awareness campaign, 'Think before you drink - less is more'.

The study was carried out by Dr Ann Hope, national alcohol policy advisor at the Department of Health and Mats Ramstedt of the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs in Stockholm, Sweden.

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