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Press Release

Press release

Social consequences of harmful alcohol use

26 November 2009

Alcohol-related social problems, such as violence, public disturbance, poor work performance and family problems, are imposing a serious burden on Irish society, according to a new report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB). The report includes an analysis of data from the Garda PULSE system which reveals a 30% increase in alcohol-related offences between 2003 and 2007.

'We already know that alcohol consumption is related to 60 medical conditions and leads to premature death from disease, accidents and injuries. From the analysis presented in this report we can now see that the social consequences are imposing a considerable burden as well', says Dr Deirdre Mongan, Research Officer at the HRB and co-author of the report.

Alcohol-related offences rose from 50,948 in 2003 to 66,406 in 2007. The typical offender was a young male aged 24 years or under. Half of all offences were committed at the weekend. Just under half of adult offences occurred between midnight and 4.00 am, with a peak at 2.00 am.

'Social problems are not confined to young people alone. Personal drinking habits are having an impact at all ages', says Dr Mongan. 'Survey research has also shown that one in five people said they experienced harm to their friendships, home life or work, or were involved in fights in the previous year, as a result of their own drinking. The likelihood of this happening was highest among those who engaged in risky drinking every week and lowest among those who did not engage in risky drinking at all. This is not a coincidence', she says.

The report also reveals that one in four people experienced negative consequences as a result of someone else's drinking, such as family trouble, financial problems, assault, vandalism or being a passenger in a car with a drunk driver. 

Speaking about the impact on others, co-author Dr Ann Hope says, 'It is important to remember that alcohol-related harm is not restricted to the drinker. The drinker's personal choices are affecting their family, innocent bystanders and the wider community. It is important that people think about their drinking habits, not just in relation to their own health, but also in terms of the impact they have, or may have, on others'.

'The need to reduce the level of alcohol-related harm in Ireland has been emphasised in recent years. In March this year the Government approved the development of a combined national strategy to address alcohol and drug misuse. It is essential that this strategy is implemented in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way. We need a clear structure in place, with people given responsibility to ensure that the strategy is acted on. We also need all relevant stakeholders to be committed and active to ensure it is successful', Dr Hope concludes.

Summary of key findings
Alcohol and crime in Ireland

Data from the Garda PULSE (Police Using Leading Systems Effectively) system were analysed for the years 2003-2007 to examine the contribution of alcohol to crime in Ireland. 

Key findings

  • Between 2003 and 2007 the number of alcohol-related offences (drunkenness, public order and assault offences) increased by 30%, from 50,948 to 66,406.
  • The typical profile of an offender in such cases was that of a young male aged under 24 years, and the 18-24 year age group was responsible for two-fifths of offences.
  • Those aged under 18 years (minors) accounted for 17% of offenders, and the total number of offences among minors increased from 6,531 in 2003 to 10,037 in 2007, an increase of 54%.
  • For both adults and minors, approximately half of all offences occurred at the weekend.  Just under half of adult offences occurred between midnight and 4.00 am, and offences peaked at 2.00 am.
  • The number of offences was highest for the week during which St Patrick's Day occurs, the last week in October and the two weeks around Christmas and New Year's Day.

Drink-driving offences

  • The number of drink-driving offences increased by 74% between 2003 and 2007, from 11,421 to 19,864.
  • Males accounted for 90% of drink-driving offenders.
  • The largest proportions of both male and female offenders were in the 18-24-year age group, followed by the 25-29-year age group.
  • Over half (52%) of all drink-driving offences were recorded between midnight and 4.00 am, and 54% were recorded on a Saturday or Sunday.
Social consequences of alcohol use - results from the National Drinking Surveys

Harm from own drinking

In four drinking surveys (2002-2006), current drinkers were asked if they had experienced one of the following four social harm indicators in the previous 12 months: fights, or harm to friendships, home life or work.

Key findings

  • One in five (21%) experienced at least one harm.
  • Men were twice as likely to report social harms compared to women (men 28%, women 13%).
  • Levels of social harm were higher among weekly risky drinkers (binge drinkers) (36%) compared to less frequent risky drinkers (16%) and to those who did not engage in risky drinking (5%).
  • One in four 18-24-year-old weekly risky drinkers reported experiencing work problems and fights in the previous year due to their own alcohol use.
  • Harm to home life was more common among those aged 35 years and over and those who were weekly risky drinkers.

Harm from others' drinking

In the 2006 drinking survey all respondents were asked if they had experience social harm from other people's drinking in the previous 12 months. The five indicators were: having had family problems, been a passenger with a drunk driver, been assaulted, had financial trouble, or had property vandalised.

Key findings

  • Over one in four (28%) experienced harm from someone else's drinking.
  • Men and women experienced similar levels of harm from someone else's drinking.
  • More women than men reported family problems (women 17%, men 12%) and these problems were experienced equally by those who drank and those who did not drink.
  • 18% of men and 17% of women aged 18-24 years reported having been assaulted as a result of someone else's drinking.
  • 23% of men and 17% of women aged 18-24 years reported having been a passenger with a drunk driver.
  • Weekly risky drinkers were more likely to have experienced assault or been a passenger with a drunk driver compared to other drinkers.

The report, Social consequences of harmful use of alcohol in Ireland, is available on the HRB website at www.hrb.ie/publications.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)hrb.ie

ENDS

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