Health experts believe Covid-19 restrictions played a part in a sharp drop in numbers accessing alcohol treatment in 2020.
A Health Research Board (HRB) report shows total number of alcohol cases fell by 23% between 2019 and 2020, from 7,546 to 5,824.
The reduction was much greater among new cases – down 24%, from 3,296 to 2,490 – than those previously in treatment – down 7%, from 3,400 to 3,170.
The HRB report on the National Drug Treatment Reporting System 2014-2020 also noted “poor levels of participation” by alcohol services in some areas.
The sharp decrease in treatment prompted concern from Alcohol Action Ireland, which said the figures highlighted a “completely inadequate” provision of timely treatment.
The HRB report shows the number of new cases has fallen over the years, from 3,722 new cases in 2014 to 3,296 in 2019, before falling further last year.
"Alcohol continues to be the most common drug that people in Ireland seek treatment for," said Dr Anne-Marie Carew, Research Officer at the HRB.
“In 2020, we saw an overall drop in the number of cases entering drug treatment, which can in part be attributed to temporary service closures and measures introduced to comply with Covid-19 public health restrictions. This does not necessarily indicate a real decline in demand for treatment.”
Severe level of alcohol abuse
The report noted a rise in the proportion of cases involving a severe level of alcohol abuse. It said 57% of new cases in 2020 were classified as alcohol dependent, compared to 53% in 2014.
Other figures show:
Proportion of cases involving homeless people increased from 6.4% in 2014 to 8.5% in 2020;
In 2020, 10.7% of males and 4.8% of females were recorded as homeless;
26.3% of female cases were residing with children aged 17 years or younger, compared to 12% of male cases;
The most common types of alcohol used by women were spirits (35%) and wine (35%), compared to beer (40%) and spirits (37%) among men;
Cocaine was the second most common additional drug recorded, jumping from 28.2% in 2014 to 54.1% in 2020;
Cannabis is marginally more common, at 54.9%, falling from 63% in 2014.
In a statement, Alcohol Action Ireland said the data highlighted, yet again, the “completely inadequate” provision of timely alcohol treatment services in Ireland.
It said earlier this month the HRB published the 2019-20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey, which found the prevalence of alcohol use disorder running at almost 15% in the general population, corresponding to one in every seven, or 578,000, adults in Ireland.
In comparison, the AAI said: “Today’s alcohol treatment data, while acknowledging an under reporting by the providers, shows that only 2,490 new presentations for treatment received a service in 2020.”
It said international norms suggested that any one time, one in 10 of those experiencing alcohol use disorders will seek assistance.
“In Ireland, that figure could be as high as 57,800 people annually," it said.
Source: Cormac O'Keeffe,The Irish Examiner, 14/07/21