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Press Release

Press release

Trends in treatment for problem alcohol use: HRB publishes preliminary figures

18 March 2008

The number of people seeking treatment for problem alcohol use is increasing, according to preliminary figures released today by the Health Research Board. A total of 16,020 cases* aged between 15 and 64 years were treated for problem alcohol use in Ireland between 2004 and 2006.

The number of people seeking treatment for problem alcohol use is increasing, according to preliminary figures released today by the Health Research Board. A total of 16,020 cases* aged between 15 and 64 years were treated for problem alcohol use in Ireland between 2004 and 2006. 

?The number of new cases treated for alcohol as their main problem drug has risen by 21%, from 2,827 in 2004 to 3,432 in 2006. New cases are an indirect indicator of recent trends in problematic alcohol use', says Dr Jean Long, Head of the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit of the HRB.  ?The number of cases who returned for treatment also increased, but to a lesser extent, from 2,029 cases in 2004 to 2,110 in 2006. The number of cases that return for treatment are an indirect indication of chronic alcohol use', she explains.

According to Dr Long, the increase in numbers could be explained by an increase in problematic alcohol use in the population, an increase in the number of service providers reporting treated cases to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) managed by the HRB, or a combination of these two factors.

?It is essential to point out that the collection of treatment figures for alcohol is still in the initial stages and that not all alcohol treatment services provided information for the three-year period under review', says Dr Long. ?This means that the figures presented are an underestimate of the true extent of treated alcohol use in Ireland and reflect the degree of participation in the reporting system by treatment services, rather than the actual levels of treatment required or, indeed, provided in any one region. For example, participation by services in the East (Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin) and the West (Galway, Mayo and Roscommon) is still incomplete', she explains. 

More than one in five treated alcohol cases reported that they had also used other drugs, highlighting the association between alcohol and other recreational drugs. In 2004 the top three additional drugs used were cannabis, followed by ecstasy and then cocaine. In 2005 and 2006, the rank order changed, with cocaine ranked second and ecstasy ranked third. This pattern was similar for both new and previously treated cases.

?It is important to note that the number of cases receiving treatment for problem use of both alcohol and cocaine increased by 40% in the three-year period, although the overall number of such cases is still low', explained Dr Long. ?Research has shown that the use of these two drugs together results in the formation of cocaethylene, which potentiates the cardiotoxic effects of cocaine alone. Taking cocaine and alcohol together can also increase the likelihood of violent thoughts, which can in turn lead to violent behaviour?, says Dr Long.

?More than one in four of the new cases who presented for treatment had started drinking by the time they were 15 years old, and a similar number had started using illicit drugs by that age', says Dr Long. ?This illustrates a link between starting to drink alcohol and taking drugs and highlights the importance of delaying for as long as possible the use of alcohol by young people. The fact that one in ten new cases is aged under 19 is further evidence of the risks of alcohol misuse among teenagers', she states.

Socio-economic information

It can be difficult to determine whether long-standing alcohol problems lead to social disadvantage, or whether failure to secure or retain employment and accommodation increases the likelihood of developing chronic alcohol problems. The information presented in this report indicates that there is an association between socio-economic status and problem alcohol use.

The number of cases who reported leaving school early was slightly higher among previously treated cases (16%) than among new cases (14%). According to Dr Long, this could indicate that those with fewer prospects are more likely to fall into a cycle of chronic alcohol use. ?A similar pattern is evident in relation to unemployment, with only 33% of previously treated cases and 44% of new cases in employment. This suggests that ongoing problem alcohol use results in loss of employment or that factors, such as low self-esteem or inadequate problem-solving skills, which are barriers to employment, are also associated with failed treatment and chronic addiction,? says Dr Long.

?Comparing regional trends is difficult because these are preliminary findings and the data for all regions are not available,? explains Dr Long. ?Using the figures we do have, the largest proportion (43%) of cases  presenting for treatment were in the HSE South Region (Carlow, Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary SR, Waterford and Wexford ); 23% were in the HSE West Region (Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Limerick, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Tipperary NR,); 21% were in the HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster Region (Dublin South, Kildare, Laois, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath, and Wicklow); and the remaining 12% were in the HSE Dublin North East Region (Cavan, Dublin North, Louth, Meath and Monaghan). ?The process of recruiting treatment services that have not participated in the data collection is ongoing.  We expect to achieve full participation by all services in the coming years, which will allow us to see if there are regional differences', concluded Dr Long.

*One case does not necessarily represent one individual.  A number of people presented for treatment on more than one occasion during the period under review.

The data presented in this press release are based on HRB Trends Series 1: Trends in treated problem alcohol use in Ireland, 2004 to 2006, which is available in the publications section of 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

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