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Alcohol treatment in Ireland: HRB publishes 2018 figures 

Latest alcohol treatment figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show 54,263 cases* of people being treated for problem alcohol use in Ireland between 2012 and 2018.

There were 7,464 treated cases during 2018, a small increase compared to 7,350 in 2017. 

  • Almost seven-in-ten cases were already alcohol dependent**. 
  • Many people in treatment had been drinking more in a typical day than would be recommended in a week based on HSE low risk guidelines. 
  • The number of cases presenting with cocaine as an additional problem drug continues to rise.

According to Dr Darrin Morrissey, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board,
‘More people receive treatment for alcohol as a main problem drug than any other drug in Ireland. One-in-five cases seeking alcohol treatment also report problem use of other drugs, which is known to make recovery harder. 

‘Cocaine continues to increase as an additional drug being used by both men and women who present for alcohol treatment.  This is of concern because mixing alcohol and cocaine can lead to greater physical harm, more severe side-effects and increased impairment.’

Commenting on the trends, which are based on figures from the HRB’s National Drug Treatment Reporting System, Dr Anne Marie Carew, Research Officer at the HRB said,

‘Two-in-three new cases were already dependent on alcohol when they presented to treatment for the first time. This means that more people are presenting when the problem is already severe which makes treatment more complex and recovery more difficult.’

‘On average, both men and women presenting for treatment were drinking more in a typical day than would be recommended by the HSE in one week for low risk drinking. The median number of standard drinks consumed by women on a typical day was 15, while for men it was 20. Evidence shows that the social and health risks from alcohol increase the more you drink.’ 

Low-risk drinking guidelines from the HSE say up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women, and up to 17 standard drinks*** in a week for men. That is half a pint of regular beer, 100 mls of wine or a pub measure (35mls) of spirits. Drinks should be spaced out over the week, with two to three alcohol free days per week.

Level of problem alcohol use

  • Between 2012 and 2018, 54,263 cases were treated for problem alcohol use. The number of cases decreased from a high of 8,609 in 2012 to 7,464 in 2018.
  • In 2018 there was a small increase in cases, from 7,350 in 2017, to 7,464 in 2018.
  • Seven in ten (71%) cases were already alcohol dependent** when they presented for treatment.
  • In 2018, the rate of alcohol dependency was similar for men and women.
  • The median number of standard drinks consumed on a typical drinking day was 15 for women and was 20 for men. 
  • In 2018, the median age at which cases first started drinking was 15 years, slightly lower than previous years.

Socio-demographics

  • The median age of treated cases was 41 years, similar to previous years. 
  • Almost two-in-three cases were men (65%).
  • Just over half (51%) of cases were unemployed. 
  • The proportion of cases that were homeless increased from one-in-twenty cases in 2012 to one-in-ten in 2018. 
  • Cases recorded as Irish Traveller in ethnicity represented 2% of all cases. 

Polydrug use

  • Polydrug use (problem use of more than one drug) was a factor in just over one in five cases treated for problem alcohol use. This has remained relatively stable in the period 2012 (19%) to 2018 (22%).  
  • Cannabis was the most common additional drug used.  The number of cases reported declined from 1,057 in 2012 to 940 in 2018. 
  • Cocaine was the second most common additional drug recorded.  This has increased from 453 in 2012 to 772 in 2018. 
  • In 2018, cocaine as an additional drug was more common among men (one in two cases) than women (two in five cases). 
  • Benzodiazepines were the third most common additional drug, reported in almost one-in-four cases.  A greater proportion of women than men reported use of benzodiazepines with alcohol.
  • In 2018, opioids as an additional drug are more common among women (17%) than males (12%).

Gender comparison

  • Median age of treated cases was higher for women (43 years) than men (40 years). This is reflected in the median age for new cases entering treatment (39 for men, 42 for women)
  • A higher proportion of women were aged 50 years or over (one-in-three women compared to one in four men).
  • The median number of standard drinks on a typical drinking day was 15 for women and 20 for men.
  • Preferred drinks for women were spirits (36%), wine (35%) followed by beer (20%). For men: beer (45%), spirits (38%) and wine (9%)
  • Cannabis is the most common additional drug for both men and women, followed by cocaine.
  • Benzodiazepines (28% females, 21% males) and opioids (17% females, 12% males) are reported at a higher rate by females than males. 
  • Homelessness among cases treated for problem alcohol use was twice as common among males (12%) than females (6%).

A copy of the HRB Bulletin Alcohol Treatment in Ireland 2012 – 2018 and related infographic is available in the publications section of our website www.hrb.ie/publications and www.drugsandalcohol.ie/30970 

* It is important to note that each record in the NDTRS database relates to a treatment episode (a case), and not to a person. This means that the same person could be counted more than once in the same calendar year if they had more than one treatment episode in that year.  

** Alcohol dependence: Strong desire to consume alcohol, impaired control over use, persistent drinking in spite of harmful consequences, a higher priority given to alcohol than any other activities or obligations, increased tolerance and showing withdrawal reaction when alcohol use is discontinued. Source WHO: The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (2001).

***What is a standard drink? In Ireland a Standard Drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol.  For example, one Standard Drink is equal to a half pint of normal beer, a small glass of wine (12.5% in volume) or a pub measure of spirits (35mls) www.askaboutalcohol.ie/your-drinking/weekly-low-risk-drinking-guidelines/

ENDS 

For more information, infographics or interviews please contact: -
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager, Health Research Board
p +353 1 2345103    m +353 87 2288514    e gmarkey@hrb.ie

Notes for editors 
This paper describes trends in treated problem alcohol use in Ireland over the seven-year period 2012 to 2018, as recorded by the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS). This information will assist policy makers, service planners and public health practitioners to develop appropriate responses to problem alcohol use in the future.

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency supporting and funding health research in Ireland. We manage four health information systems in the areas of alcohol and drug use, drug deaths, disability and mental health and generate evidence to inform health policy. Our aim is to improve people's health, build health research capacity and underpin developments in health service delivery.