Ireland’s Drinkers In Denial About Levels of Consumption

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Hands of three men toasting with beer

A study from the Health Research Board (HRB) looked at harmful and hazardous drinking among Irish people and found that these drinkers underestimated the amount of alcohol they drink.

The study is based on data from Ireland’s Drug Prevalence Survey 2014/2015, which involved interviews with over 7,000 people across Ireland aged 15 to 65+, all of whom were asked to indicate how much they drank and describe their self-perceptions of their own drinking.

The people who took part in the study were representative of the Irish population in terms of their age, gender and socio-economic status.

The main findings were:

  • Just 1 in 3 regular binge drinkers recognised their binge drinking as harmful to their health.
  • 1 in 3 people who were alcohol dependent considered themselves as either ‘light’ or ‘moderate’ drinkers.
  • 1 in 2 people who were alcohol dependent described themselves as ‘light’ or ‘moderate’ drinkers who ‘sometimes binge drink’.
  • While overall trends among women and men were similar, women who were alcohol dependent were less likely to describe themselves as heavy drinkers (1 in 10) than men (1 in 5).

Commenting on the findings, the lead researcher Dr Deirdre Mongan says,

The results of the study highlight that patterns of alcohol use in Ireland are problematic, and that a large proportion of Irish people may be in denial about the potential harmful effects of their drinking behaviour on their health.

It is particularly concerning that so many Irish people with alcohol dependence believe themselves to be light or moderate drinkers, especially in light of the fact that in Ireland, those who are alcohol dependent are most likely to experience alcohol-related harm’.

Was anyone accurate about how much they drink?

The people who most accurately estimated how much alcohol they drink were those deemed low risk drinkers.

Dr Mairead O’Driscoll, Interim Chief Executive at the Health Research Board states,

‘This HRB study illustrates that further initiatives to reduce overall consumption and hazardous and harmful drinking patterns and raise awareness around drinking patterns are required’.

Dr O’Driscoll continues,

‘A diverse range of public health policies targeted at the entire population is most appropriate, given the fact that a majority of harmful and hazardous drinkers underestimated the amount of alcohol they drank. The introduction of population-based measures in the Public (Alcohol) act in 2018 is required to reduce alcohol-related harms in Ireland’.

The paper is just published in BMJ Open.

*Harmful drinking, or regular binge drinking, is defined as consuming approximately 6 standard alcohol drinks in one sitting.

**Hazardous drinking, or alcohol dependence, is defined as experiencing alcohol cravings and a lack of control when it comes to drinking.

***Low-risk drinkers were those drinkers who were not alcohol dependent and who did not engage in regular binge drinking.