Ireland’s drinking culture is changing for the better
The Drinkaware Annual Barometer 2022, provides an overview of adults’ drinking behaviour in Ireland. The first round of its 2022 findings, as reported by the independent national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse, provides a comprehensive overview of the attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol in 2022, revealing that our cultural relationship with alcohol is shifting, however, how we drink, when we drink is an ongoing and rising concern:
- For the third year in a row, over half of Irish adults’ drink alcohol on “at least a weekly basis”
- 1 in 4 drinkers now engage in binge drinking when they drink
- 55% of people who drink have engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days an increase of 10% when compared to 2020 (46%)
- Fewer adults ‘don’t drink’ compared with pre-pandemic (17% in 2022 V 28% in 2020)
The research, carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes in May/June 2022 reveals a complex relationship between Irish adults and alcohol. As a nation we are experiencing a cultural shift, however the “at least weekly” consumption of alcohol remains high and the levels binge drinking continue to increase year on year.
Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of 60 grams of pure alcohol or 6 standard drinks in one sitting. 27% of Irish adults, when they do drink, are now typically binge drinking. Binge drinking increases the likelihood of a person experiencing both short- and long-term harms and the increasing levels of binge drinking being reported year-on-year through the independent national charity’s annual survey need to be urgently addressed.
One objective of the research is to explore the ‘why’ of alcohol use in Ireland and unsurprisingly the motivations for why Irish people drink alcohol have shifted since the end of Covid-19 restrictions, with people now able to socialise freely: the most cited motivations for drinking are social and enhancement (both are at 54%); coping, which was previously the main motivation is now third at 51%, down 10% compared with 2021. However, no improvement on the mental wellbeing of the Irish population was found despite the relaxation of restrictions (2021 V 2022). With a critically low number of the population, at just 26%, reporting high mental wellbeing in stark contrast to pre-pandemic levels of 63% in 2019.
Although the above findings clearly indicate cause for concern, significant positive findings suggest an important shift in the cultural expectancies regarding alcohol and the stated positive intentions from the public:
- 50% of respondents agree ‘drinking to excess is just part of Irish culture’ – a dramatic drop from 75% reported in 2019
- 27% or just under 1 in 3 agree ‘we all drink to excess at some stage – it’s no big deal – dropping from 50% in 2019
- 30% would like to drink less often and 35% agree they have already made small positive changes to their drinking habits in the past 30 days.
- The top three influences to drink less were reported as: physical health (63%), personal finances (37%) and mental health (32%)
CEO for Drinkaware Sheena Horgan comments:
“As with any data relating to alcohol use, there are many contradictions – we are seeing both positive and negative results year on year through our annual barometer survey. The steady increases in consumption cannot be ignored, for the third year in a row over half of the Irish adult population are drinking alcohol on at least a weekly basis, and the levels of binge drinking are increasing, with a 35% increase since the start of the pandemic (20% 2020). The amount we drink, when we drink is just as, if not more important, than the frequency of when we drink. It is clear through our research that binge drinking has become the normalised drinking experience for Irish adults, and as a collective society we need to act. The data consistently reveals that, binge drinking is, regular, on the rise and normalised, and the time to act is now, if we want to curb these year-on-year increases.
However, we cannot ignore the positive findings, although 50% of Irish adults agree that drinking to excess is part of Irish culture, this represents a dramatic decrease from the Drinkaware Index in 2019, where three quarters of Irish adults agreed with the statement, and with regards to drinking to excess similar findings were identified. The positive shift in cultural expectancies is one that merits recognition of the awareness raising, educational, environment and policy measures that have taken place in recent years, with the caveat that of course much more needs to be done.
The Drinkaware Barometer 2022 reveals opportunities for engagement with the public, policy makers and health stakeholders. The findings clearly outline where more work is needed – the amount we drink when we drink and the mental wellbeing of Irish adults are key areas of concern, however, we must leverage the positive intentions of the public and the notable change in our cultural expectations surrounding alcohol to support, empower and enable a societal shift regarding alcohol misuse.”