Over 7,500 cases of problem alcohol use were treated in Ireland in 2019, a slight increase from the previous year, according to the latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB).
Cases of problem alcohol use rose from 7,646 in 2018 to 7,546 in 2019, alongside a rise in the number of cases reporting cocaine as an additional drug.
Almost 70% of cases were classified as alcohol dependent, which refers to a case where there is a strong desire to drink alcohol, difficulties controlling its use, prioritising alcohol over other areas of life, and experiencing a physical withdrawal reaction when use of alcohol is discontinued.
The median age at which cases started drinking was 16, while the median age of cases entering alcohol treatment was 41, the HRB figures show.
Although figures for 2020 are not yet available, concerns have been raised around Ireland about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on problem alcohol use.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, HRB senior researcher Dr Suzi Lyons said that this has been an “unprecedented year”.
“The problem is that the Irish population already had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, so we do know that during this crisis, people probably did turn to alcohol to try to cope, or if they already had harmful use, they probably increased that use.”
“What we will have to do is look at the data and monitor the trends to see the negative consequences of alcohol use which have been precipitated by Covid-19.”
The median number of standard drinks for women presenting for treatment was 15 in a day, and 20 for men – more in a day than the HSE low risk guidelines advises in a week.
One in five cases that presented for treatment for problem alcohol use report problem use with an additional drug, according to the HRB’s figures.
Cannabis and cocaine use as an additional drug was more frequent among men than women, but women were more likely than men to use benzodiapezepines or opiods alongside alcohol.
Overall, cannabis was the most common additional drug reported in cases of problem alcohol use in 2019.
Although it remained the most common additional drug, the number of cases reporting problem use of cannabis dropped from 1,008 in 2013 to 881 in 2019.
In contrast, the number of cases that present with problem use of cocaine as an additional drug have almost doubled over a seven year period, from 458 in 2013 to 844 in 2019.
Source: Lauren Boland, The Journal.ie, 28/07/20