Drinking behaviour and attitudes among adults in Ireland – key trends and patterns 

We were thrilled to host our 11th Research Briefing event on 15th November 2023 at which John O’Mahony, IPSOS B&A gave the keynote presentation focusing on key findings from our latest Barometer survey. The Drinkaware Barometer is a national population-based survey of 1,000 adults aged 18+ conducted by IPSOS B&A on an annual basis and includes a series of internationally recognised modules relating to alcohol consumption and mental health.  Collectively, extensive data gathered since the commencement of the Barometer series in 2017 allows for an annual examination of drinking practices over time and how they relate to other practices within daily life including key patterns and trends within the data. Having data over the course of various time points also provides crucial tangible action points which the country can act on. It is important in terms of listening and responding to what adults want and need in terms of alcohol information – this is at the core of our work in terms of aiming to prevent and reduce the misuse of alcohol. We are thoroughly proud of working with IPSOS B&A on this body of work over 7 time points to date. John O’Mahony carefully took the 20+ stakeholders from across a range of disciplines and backgrounds who attended (virtually) on a fascinating and extremely insightful journey, plotting out the key findings from this survey for 2023 that also allowed the opportunity to discuss some of the issues further as part of a Q&A with our Research and Impacts Manager, Dr Ann Stokes. This conversation most certainly provided the attendees with plenty of room for thought, with several of the discussion points highlighted further here. 

Over the course of several years, our data shows home as a prominent drinking occasion and space, particularly this year with potentially worrying practices taking place while drinking at home. For instance, the normalisation of drinking at home alone with increasing numbers of adults doing so set alongside other indicators such those drinking during the week or during the day with increases occurring since the COVID-19 pandemic.  John noted that at-home drinking was always there but took on a whole different meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic – where it became normal to drink ultimately changed and who we drink with became more solitary and we can see this pattern has maintained in 2023. Ultimately, there is a potential danger if adults are drinking in the home and unintentionally drinking more. A key example of this is binge drinking, with 26% of drinkers identified in Barometer 2023 as engaging in binge drinking when they drink (drink 6 or more standard drinks) on a typical day in the past 30 days. Similarly, Healthy Ireland 2023 identified a quarter (24%) of the population aged 15+ are considered binge drinkers, i.e. they drank 6 or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion in the past 12 months. An additional concern arises when there is a serious lack of understanding of the HSE Low-risk guidelines – as evident in our 2023 Barometer with only 3% of adults demonstrating accurate knowledge.

At the same time, there are some increasingly positive findings with the 2023 study that we are excited and encouraged to see as momentum gathers pace among Irish adults (e.g. 36% now agree they ‘would like to drink alcohol less often’. This is the highest such incidence in the Barometer to date). Within Irish adults there are differences in behaviour and peaks among certain cohorts and one that stands out is young adults. Data around alcohol is nuanced and complex which makes it difficult to directly ascertain from this, or other, data whether young adults are drinking less.  While we see from our data that their behaviour in terms of binge drinking may peak relative to other cohorts, we also see peaks in terms of positive changes with more younger adults wanting to drink less often. For example, 54% of 18–24-year-olds in Barometer 2023 said they would like to drink less often and 57% have made small positive changes to their drinking habits. In terms of other national data, Healthy Ireland 2023 notes that there has been a notable change in drinking behaviour over the past 5 years among those aged 25-34, inclusive. Those in this age group are now less likely to have consumed alcohol in the past 12 months and less likely to drink at least once a week. This is particularly evident among individuals at the younger end of this age range. However, the latest data from Healthy Ireland 2023 found that young adults are more likely to report binge drinking with over 1/3 of 15–24-year-olds doing so on a typical drinking occasion in the past 12 months (36% of 15–24-year-olds vs 24% of the overall population). Almost half of men aged 15-24 binge drink on a typical drinking occasion, compared to roughly a quarter of women in this age group (48% and 24% respectively).

John shared his thoughts regarding young adults, highlighting how they are a particularly fascinating group because there is a somewhat general cultural perception that our young adults have a different relationship with alcohol than older adults did, that younger generations are somewhat bucking the trend in terms of Irelands’ relationship with alcohol, to which he is unsure. The evidence from our data would suggest that drinking remains worryingly active amongst the youngest adults particularly the figure in relation to the frequency of binge drinking in the 2023 Barometer with 72% of 18–24-year-olds who drink engaging in binge drinking in the past 30 days compared with 56% of adults who drink. However, John cautioned that there are various segments within the 18–24-year-olds that may have a different relationship with alcohol, but it would be complacent to simply go along with the sentiment that young adults in 2023 have a different relationship with alcohol. The same issues are still prominent, while it is reassuring that ‘I would like to drink alcohol less often’ peaks among young adults. Ultimately, as highlighted by Dr Ann Stokes, we need to know more, and quantitative data can only tell us so much. It is important to listen to the voices of young adults themselves and we would welcome the opportunity to do that in the year going forward.  

We look forward to facilitating further debate on alcohol and behavioural change by hosting our next research briefing in Spring 2024 and in so doing, contribute to sharing learnings and knowledge. If you would like to be added to our invite list, please email research@drinkaware.ie. We also encourage you to look at the section dedicated to our Research Briefing Series on our website to which any outputs from this and all previous events are added and freely accessible. Please note that the views expressed in our Research Briefing Series are those of the speakers, based on their work in research and other disciplines.