Alcohol consumption in Ireland

Alcohol use is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide and has been identified as one of the ten leading risk factors for the burden of disease. Alcohol use is associated with numerous harmful health and social consequences, including an increased risk of a range of cancers, stroke and liver cirrhosis. Alcohol also contributes to death and disability through accidents and injuries, assault, violence, homicide and suicide.   

Alcohol is a modifiable risk factor and reductions in alcohol consumption would lead to an associated reduction in the burden of disease. 

In this research bank, you can find the latest national and international data relating to alcohol consumption in Ireland.  

Content last updated on April  29th 2024. 

  • Adult per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland

    ‘Per capita alcohol use’ refers to the volume of pure alcohol consumed per person aged 15 years and over each year in Ireland. Ireland’s per capita alcohol consumption is calculated annually using alcohol sales data from Revenue and population estimates from the Central Statistics Office. 

    Per capita alcohol use in Ireland in 2023 was 9.9 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 years and over, a 2.9% decrease from 2022, (based on 2022 population estimates). 

    This corresponds to on average, every person aged 15 years and over in Ireland drinking 4 pints of beer, 26 pints of cider, 29 bottles of wine, and 9 bottles of vodka in 2023. In 2023, Ireland consumed the following of pure alcohol per capita in 2022: 4.3 litres of beer; 2.8 litres of wine; 2.3 litres of spirits, and 0.6 litres of cider. 

    The most recent data (2019) available from the World Health Organisation shows that in Ireland, total per capita (15+) alcohol consumption in litres of pure alcohol is 11.7 litres. This includes both recorded and unrecorded per capita consumption from 2016-2018, which together provides a more accurate estimate of the level of alcohol use in a country and as a result, illustrates trends in alcohol consumption in a more precise way. The WHO (World Health Organisation) predicts that total per capita (15+) consumption would reach 13.5 litres in 2020 and 13.9 litres in 2025 in Ireland. In 2010, this same figure was 12.21 litres. 
     

    Recorded consumption per capita was 10.8 litres in 2019, 19% higher than the stated aim of the Irish Government to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres by 2020. Unrecorded per capita (15+) alcohol consumption in Ireland accounted for 1.4 litres in 2019.   

    Data released by the Revenue on alcohol excise receipts and volumes show that recorded consumption in Ireland was 10.2 litres of alcohol per capita over the age of 15 years. This is an increase of 7.6% compared to 2021. In 2013, the government set a target that Ireland should reduce its alcohol use to 9.1 litres per capita and to have achieved this by 2020. In 2022, the Revenue data shows that beer consumption increased by 11.6%, cider increase of 0.8% and spirit consumption increased by 5.7% as on-trade settings that remained closed/limited opening during 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic reopened (Note Beer consumption decreased by 17% and cider by 12%, in 2020) In 2020, wine consumption decreased by 2.5% . It is important to note that wine consumption increased by 15.5% in Q4 of 2022 compared to Q3 of 2022  

    During the COVID‑19 pandemic, people significantly changed drinking habits, shifting places of consumption from bars and restaurants to home.  

    However, there is evidence available to suggest that at-home drinking was the norm for many Irish adults pre-COVID-19 with many drinking occasions taking place in the home setting. Drinking at home was viewed convenient, comfortable, and easy. It was clearly an established, acceptable, and attractive new norm among Irish adults. Unknowingly, many were also consuming more than intended when drinking at home due to their misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge on binge drinking. The 2022 Healthy Ireland Survey asked participants where they drank the last time they consumed alcohol. The most frequently reported location for alcohol use the last time they drank was in their own home (44%), just under a third (30%) drank in a pub, with 13% drinking in a restaurant, hotel or café, and 10% drinking in someone else’s home. The majority (53%) of drinkers aged 35 or older reported that their most recent drinking occasion was in their own home, while 23% of drinkers aged 35 or older reported drinking in a pub. In contrast, drinkers younger than this were more likely to drink in a pub (42%), and less likely to drink in their own home (26%). 

    According to the OECD (2021), recorded alcohol consumption is defined as ‘annual sales of pure alcohol in litres per person aged 15 years and over’ (production, import, export, and sales or taxation data). A cut-off of 15 years is used to reflect consumption of alcohol more accurately, given that those under 15 for the most part do not drink.   

    The WHO states that unrecorded alcohol consumption refers to ‘alcohol which is not taxed and is outside the usual system of governmental control, such as home or informally produced alcohol (legal or illegal), smuggled alcohol, surrogate alcohol (which is alcohol not intended for human consumption), or alcohol obtained through cross-border shopping (which is recorded in a different jurisdiction),’ and therefore it is not accounted for in official statistics. Therefore, revenue data does not account for alcohol consumed in Ireland that was bought outside the Republic of Ireland, including cross-border alcohol sales, or alcohol consumed by Irish residents while abroad. 

    According to the WHO, an estimated 25% of worldwide alcohol consumption is unrecorded, meaning not taxed and is outside the usual system of governmental control. The usually lower price of this type of alcohol, its appeal to consumers from low socioeconomic status and people with underlying alcohol use disorders, irregular labelling and thus often unknown ethanol percentage by volume and the presence of potentially toxic compounds, as well as a complex interplay of these factors, is what can make unrecorded alcohol potentially more harmful than regulated alcohol. 

    In a 2021 study examining unrecorded alcohol use across 33 European countries, unrecorded alcohol accounted for 7% of per capita consumption in 2020, while 11.3% of per capita alcohol use in Ireland estimated as being unrecorded. On average across Europe, one in eight respondents who drank alcohol in the past week also had at least one unrecorded alcoholic beverage in the same week. Unrecorded alcohol use was also much more prevalent among people with high-risk alcohol use in the past week compared to people with low- or medium-risk alcohol intake in the past week. 

    Defining per capita alcohol consumption  

    Total per capita alcohol consumption is defined as the total (sum of recorded per capita consumption three-year average and unrecorded per capita consumption) amount of alcohol consumed per adult (15+ years) over a calendar year, in litres of pure alcohol. The total alcohol per capita consumption (APC) comprises both the recorded and the unrecorded APC, which together provides a more accurate estimate of the level of alcohol consumption in a country, and as a result, portrays trends of alcohol consumption in the adult population (15 years of age and older) in a more precise way.   In circumstances in which the number of tourists per year is at least the number of inhabitants, tourist consumption is also considered and is deducted from the country’s recorded per capita figures.  

    How is alcohol consumption data collated?  

    Several key monitoring surveys are available that are crucial for both measuring and tracking alcohol consumption. In Ireland, alcohol consumption is calculated using the alcohol sales figures provided by the Revenue Commissioners and population figures provided by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The Revenue Commissioners provide alcohol sales figures for each beverage type (beer, spirits, wine, and cider) and where excise duty has been paid. Population figures are based on census data that is collected every five years by the CSO and are then estimated for intervening years.   

    However, revenue data do not account for home-brewed alcohol or alcohol consumed in Ireland that may have been bought outside the Republic of Ireland, including cross-border alcohol sales. Per capita consumption figures also do not account for alcohol consumed by Irish people while abroad and alcohol consumed by visitors to Ireland is not subtracted from Revenue figures. Per capita consumption figures may therefore be likely to be an underestimation of the true amount of alcohol consumed by Irish adults.   

    Per capita consumption also includes those who abstain  from alcohol, as this rate is based on all adults aged 15 years+ in Ireland. Therefore, when abstainers are excluded from survey data, alcohol consumption among those who have consumed alcohol in the past year is likely to increase. For instance, most recent figures available from 2016 for drinkers only per capita consumption in Ireland are 14.5 litres  

    Per capita alcohol consumption is based on all adults aged 15 years and over in Ireland, this rate of consumption includes those who abstain from consuming alcohol. Data from the 2023 Healthy Ireland Survey indicates that 30% of adults in Ireland aged 15 years and over had not consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months. When abstainers (n=1,281,000 according to the 2023 Healthy Ireland Survey) are excluded, alcohol consumption among drinkers aged 15 years and over increases to 14.1 litres of pure alcohol per person in 2023. This is considerably more than the Department of Health’s stated aim to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres. 

    Levels of consumption/recorded alcohol per capita consumption are used to facilitate reporting to the EU, OECD and WHO. For instance, the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH) is an essential tool for assessing and monitoring the health situation and trends related to alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm, and policy responses in countries. Much of the data collected via GISAH is freely available to access through the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory Data Repository. The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health (WHO 2018) presents a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and harms in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

    While national data on overall consumption per capita facilitates the assessment of long-term trends, they do not identify harmful drinking patterns, such as heavy episodic drinking (also called binge drinking).

  • Ireland’s consumption in relation to other countries

    The OECD Report Health at a Glance 2023: provides further international comparisons on alcohol consumption.  Measured through sales data, alcohol consumption per capita average was 8.6 litres across OECD countries in 2021; 9.5 litres for Ireland (this figure is down by more than 2 litres from 2011 (However, it is important to note this is recorded consumption only and does not include unrecorded consumption)  Ireland is ranked 16th out of the 38 included countries for per capita alcohol consumption but it is important to note that the figure for Ireland is based on 2023 per capita use but for the other countries, the year varies.  Latvia and Lithuania reported the highest consumption in 2021 (over 12 litres per person), followed by the Czech Republic, Estonia and Austria – all with over 11 litres per person. Türkiye, Costa Rica, Israel and Colombia had comparatively low consumption levels (under 5 litres per person). Ireland was one of 3 countries with the largest changes in absolute value of consumption through sales data over the past decade – with a decrease of 2.2 (19%), followed by Lithuania –2.6 (18%) and France –1.9 (15%). Ireland previously ranked 9th highest for per capita alcohol consumption among OECD member countries when reported by the HRB in 2021  

    An overview of Irelands’ Total consumption (10.2 litres in 2022) in relation to other OECD countries with most up to date annual sales of pure alcohol in litres per person aged 15+ is available to view from the OECD. 

    In 2019, total alcohol consumption across the WHO Global Region, measured in litres of pure alcohol per person of 15 years of age or older, was 5.5 litres, compared with 5.7 litres in 2010. Total alcohol consumption across the European region was 9.2 litres in 2019, compared with 10.2 litres in 2010, while total alcohol consumption in Ireland was 11.7 litres in 2019, compared with 12.2 litres in 2010. These figures therefore show that total consumption remains higher in Ireland than both across the WHO Global region and European region. 

    Limitations of consumption data comparisons  

    The methodology to convert alcohol drinks to pure alcohol may differ across countries. Caution should thus be used in interpreting the data. Typically, beer is weighted as 4-5%, wine as 11-16% and spirits as 40% of pure alcohol equivalent. For instance, official statistics do not include unrecorded alcohol consumption, such as home production. In Estonia and Russia, data include a correction for tourist consumption, cross-border trade and illegal alcohol trade and consumption. In some countries (e.g. Luxembourg), national sales do not accurately reflect actual consumption by residents, since purchases by non-residents may create a significant gap between national sales and consumption. Alcohol consumption in Luxembourg is thus estimated as the mean of alcohol consumption in France and Germany  For Ireland, the methodology used is converted to pure alcohol based on alcohol by volume (ABV) with Cider 4.5% and Wine 12.5% and excise duty figures of alcohol (litres) are divided by population (aged 15 years old and over) figures. 

    Recent research that examined alcohol exposure between 1990 and 2014 as well as predicting forecasts until 2030 has found that trends in alcohol use have varied in various parts of the world. For example, the WHO (World Health Organisation) report that alcohol consumption has declined in many European countries, as first reported in western European countries and more recently in eastern European countries such as Russia. However, alcohol consumption has increased in some Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and China. 

  • Patterns of alcohol consumption in Ireland

    While overall per capita consumption helps to assess long-term trends, it does not identify sub-populations at risk from harmful drinking patterns (OECD 2021). The relationship between per capita consumption and harm is modified by the number of drinkers in a population and the way alcohol is consumed. National population survey data may be used to determine alcohol use patterns and in Ireland this survey data is included in the Healthy Ireland Survey data  

    There are important variations in levels of consumption across countries, within the same country and across different population groups. It is important to consider drinking patterns across population groups to identify those who drink the most and are most at risk of alcohol-related disorders.  

    However, it is important to note the limitations of national population surveys used to estimate self-reported alcohol consumption such as difficulties in recall, social desirability bias and under sampling of heavy drinkers. Survey data may be compared against duty clearances or sales data to help overcome some of these limitations.  

      Current drinkers (consumption in past year/month)   

    • WHO (World Health Organisation) Global Observatory Data Repository found that the proportion of adults (15+ years) who have consumed any alcohol during the past 12 months in Ireland was 81.3% in 2016.  
    • Healthy Ireland 2023 identified that overall, 70% of the population (sample age 15+) report consuming alcohol during the past 12 months. This is lower than the 75% prevalence rate reported in 2018, before the Covid-19 pandemic (the last time drinking alcohol in the past 12 months was measured on the Healthy Ireland Survey). 
    •   
    • In the 2019–20 National Drugs and Alcohol Survey, 74.2% of survey respondents reported having consumed alcohol in the last 12 months, corresponding to 2,903,000 of the general population in Ireland aged 15 years and older.  
    • According to Drinkaware’s Barometer data, 82% of adults report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days (in line with 2022 – 83%). The lower percentage of current drinkers reported in both 2020 (72%) and 2021 (77%) may reflect the social distancing measures associated with periods of lockdown during these two time points and the closure of licensed premises (LINK BAROMETER RESEARCH PAPER CURRENTLY IN PREPARATION FOR RELEASE APRIL 2024??)    
    • This is broadly in line with those reported in the initial CSO (Central Statistics Office) Social Impact of COVID-19 Survey that found 80.6% of respondents stating that they consumed alcohol in April 2020.  

     Weekly drinking in Ireland 

    • According to the latest Healthy Ireland 2023, 38% of people aged 15 or over report drinking alcohol at least once a week in the past 12 months. This is broadly the same as measured in 2021 (37%), although remains lower than 2018 (41%). 21% drink multiple times per week – similar to the measurements in 2022 and 2018 (21% and 23% respectively). 
    • Pre-COVID 19, the Drinkaware Index 2019 found that 44% of Irish adults (aged +18) reported drinking alcohol at least once a week. Within the drinking population specifically, the weekly drinker is in the majority (at 57%). From an age perspective, at 50% the 35-49-year-olds were most prone to weekly consumption, followed by under 25s, 46% of whom drink on a weekly basis.  
    • Weekly consumption patterns during the initial lockdown phase of COVID-19 in 2020 rose to 52% among Irish adults and with some notable changes identified compared with pre-COVID-19. For instance, weekly consumption peaks among 65+ year olds at 57% and the younger adult cohort 18–24-year-olds were least likely to report consuming alcohol on at least a weekly basis in the past 30 days (38%). Peaks in weekly consumption were also identified among pre-family (56%) & pre-school (58%) life stages with both slightly higher than the national average in 2020. 
    • Post COVID-19 pandemic, in the latest Barometer data gathered during summer 2023, 59% of Irish adults now self-classify as weekly drinkers (in the past 30 days), the highest incidence since the inception of the series (2022 = 52%, 2021 = 55%). 
    • Weekly consumption in 2023 peaks in 65+ year age cohort with 61% of adults in this age cohort reporting doing so on at least a weekly basis in the past 30 days. This is in contrast to young adults aged 25-34 years who have the lowest weekly consumption figure reported (54%) across all age cohorts in 2023 
    • There is a 10-point difference in weekly drinking rates reported between urban and rural areas. 62% of adults living in urban areas report weekly drinking in 2023 compared with 52% of adults living in rural areas. 

    Quantity of alcohol consumed   

    • When those who in the last 30 days had drank alcohol, were asked how many standard drinks were consumed on a typical day in 2023, the mean (average) reported was 3.90  
    • Data gathered pre-COVID-19 as part of the 2019–20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey found that the mean number of standard drinks consumed per typical drinking occasion among those who reported drinking alcohol was 5.0. This ranged from 3.8 among females to 6.2 among males and from 6.1 among 15–24-year-olds to 3.6 among those aged 65 years and older.  

    Consumption comparison by gender  

    • Men are more likely than women to drink at increasing and higher risk levels. According to the latest WHO Global Health Repository Data, in Ireland total per capita (15+) consumption (in litres of pure alcohol), male value 18.1l and female value 5.6l and both sexes was 11.7l.  
    • Across the European (WHO) region, total alcohol consumption per capita for females is 4.0l and 14.9l for males. This means that the average level of drinking reported in Europe was nearly four-fold higher in men. For both sexes across the European (WHO) region, the figure is 9.2 litres. 
    • When accounting for drinkers only, the latest total alcohol per capita (15+) consumption in Ireland in 2016 male value was 21l, female 7.3l and both sexes were 14.5l.  
    • Weekly consumption is higher among men than women in the 2023 Barometer with 63% of male drinkers reporting doing so on at least weekly basis in the past 30 days compared with 55% of female drinkers.  
    • Healthy Ireland 2023 also found weekly drinking in the past 12 months was higher among men, with 43% of male drinkers drinking weekly compared to 34% of female drinkers. 
    • Irish household spend on alcohol   
    • According to EUROSTAT, households in the EU spent €128 billion (equivalent to 0.9% of the EU GDP) on ‘alcoholic beverages’ in 2021. This represents 1.8% of their total consumption expenditure, the same percentage share as in 2020.  Among EU members, the highest shares of total consumption expenditure on alcoholic beverages in 2021 were registered in Latvia (5.0%), Estonia (4.7%), Poland (3.7%), Lithuania and Czechia (both 3.6%). On the contrary, the lowest shares were in Greece and Italy (both 1.0%), the Netherlands (1.3%) and Spain (1.4%). 
    • In Ireland, 2.5% of total consumption expenditure went on alcohol in 2021. The EUROSTAT report found that roughly €2.5bn was spent by Irish households on alcohol in 2021 (equivalent of GDP), this was above the EU average and placed Ireland 8th out of 30 countries for the proportion of household income spent on alcohol. Ireland recorded the biggest percentage drop in the purchase of alcohol by household from 2020 to 2021, from 3% down to 2.5%. 
    • The most recent data available from the CSO Household Budget Survey 2015-2016 found that the average weekly household expenditure on alcohol and tobacco in Ireland was €28, while the average spend on ‘drink consumed at home’ was €10.56. Note the next Household Budget Survey is currently in field work stage, with publication expected later in 2024. 
  • Changes in alcohol consumption and COVID-19

    • International data shows that COVID-19 had a mixed impact on alcohol consumption with a higher share of the population increasing their alcohol consumption and frequency of drinking during the initial lockdown. At the same time, however, a slightly higher share of the population reported a decrease in binge drinking. For instance, across 11 countries, 43% of people reported that they drank more frequently; while 25% said less frequently. This is important as people changed the place of consumption with alcohol sales in on-license premises (bars, restaurants etc.) plummeting, while off-premises sales and in particular online sales growing significantly during lockdown.   
    • Beer sales in Ireland decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic but have increased post-pandemic. In 2023, beer was the most commonly purchased alcohol type, representing 43.1% of the market share. Wine sales during the peak of the pandemic (2020) were the highest ever seen, and although sales have decreased, they remain high, making up 28.5% of the market share. The market share of spirits in 2023 was 22.8%. 
    • In terms of per-capita consumption in Ireland, per capita alcohol use decreased during the pandemic before increasing again in 2022, although not to pre-pandemic levels   
    •  A study of 21 European countries found that Ireland was one of only two where alcohol consumption did not decline during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.   
    • Despite restrictions, among drinkers who reported that their alcohol use had changed, more reported an increase in consumption than a decrease in Ireland. 
    • In Ireland, 25% of Irish adults in Barometer 2020 reported that they were drinking more during the initial lockdown phase, while 25% said that they were drinking less. One third of pre-school and pre-teen family households say they are drinking more in the past 30 days (highest reported across life stages and higher than national average).  
    • These findings are in line with, and expand on, other Irish COVID-19 research conducted by the CSO (Central Statistics Office) that found households with children reported the highest proportion across all household composition in an increase in alcohol consumption at 27.3% during the initial lockdown phase. 
    • Following on from the 2020 Barometer, in 2021 19% of adults claimed that they were drinking ‘less’ in the past 30 days, while 8% reported that they were drinking ‘more’ in the past 30 days and 11% indicated that someone in their household was drinking ‘more’.  
    • Overall, there was a higher incidence of women that reported consuming more alcohol during the initial lockdown phase versus men (28% and 22% respectively). In 2021 the rate plummets to 8% for both men and women.   
    • Healthy Ireland data gathered in 2022 found that 13% of drinkers report they drink more than they did at the start of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020. Just over half (54%) report drinking the same prior to restrictions and 33% report drinking less   
    • In terms of pre-COVID-19 data, the Drinkaware Index (2019) also found that a consistent 1 in 4 Irish adults were drinking less when compared with their levels of drinking two years ago – 24% reported drinking less, 53% about the same and 6% more.   
    • Some notable changes to young adults 18–24-year old’s consumption patterns were reported during the initial lockdown phase in Ireland as documented in sections above and below. For example, while there was a dramatic drop in weekly consumption among young adults during the initial lockdown phase, binge drinking remained high. 
    • In 2020, 17% of 18–24-year-olds reported not drinking at all. However, this decreased to 7% in 2021. In 2020, 24% reported an increase in their personal drinking during the initial lockdown phase in line with the national average reported (25%). In 2021, this decreased to 15% but the national average for 2021 was 8%.  
    • Figures released as part of the CSO COVID-19 Social Impact Survey series identifies that the proportion of young adults (18-34 years) who increased their consumption of alcohol decreased as the pandemic evolved during 2020. Further to this, the percentage of 18-34-year-olds who decreased their alcohol consumption increased from 22.9% in April 2020 to 35.5% in November 2020.  
    • In data gathered as part of the Growing Up in Ireland: special COVID-19 survey, 60% of 22-year-olds reported that they were drinking less than usual and 17% drank more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. Just under a quarter reported drinking about the same amount.  
    • There are also indications of the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential impact on adults’ drinking as evident in the 2023 Barometer. For instance, in 2022 21% of adult drinkers indicated that they have increased the amount or frequency of alcohol consumption since March 2020. However, when asked in 2023, 61% of adult drinkers report that they are drinking the same level/no change in their alcohol consumption in the past 12 months (i.e. since 2022). ‘Stayed the same’ percentage is therefore important in providing indications of stability among nearly two thirds of adult drinkers of increases that may have formed since the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • Prevalence of hazardous drinking in Ireland

    A standard drink is a measure of alcohol. In Ireland, one standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. Heavy episodic drinking is defined as the proportion of adult drinkers (aged 15 and older) who have had at least 60 grams or more (6+ standard drinks) of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days. This is also referred to as binge or excessive drinking. Alcohol is disproportionately consumed by a minority of people who drink heavily making up 4%-14% of the population, depending on the country, but they consume between one third and a half of all alcohol consumed, according to analysis of six OECD countries. Across OECD countries  on average 30% of adults engage in binge drinking at least once a month. In its most recent Health at a Glance 2023 Report the OECD found that across 29 OECD countries (including Ireland) nearly one in 5 adults (19%) reported heavy episodic drinking (HED) at least once a month over the course of 12 months in 2019. The HED rate for Ireland was 24.8% above the OECD average and 8th highest. The Drinkaware 2022 Barometer revealed complacent and complicit over-consumption of alcohol among Irish adults with 50% believing that drinking to excess is ‘just a part of Irish culture’, this is reduction from 74% in 2019  The Drinkaware Index (2019) revealed complacent and complicit over-consumption of alcohol among Irish adults with 74% believing that drinking to excess is ‘just a part of Irish culture’. 

    Latest Barometer data shows that one quarter (26%) of drinkers aged 18+ engage in binge drinking when they drink (i.e. drink 6 or more standard drinks) on a typical day when drinking in the past 30 days in 2023, with no real change on last year (27% in 2022);  Lower % rates for typical binge drinking were reported during the COVID-19 pandemic with 22% of drinkers in 2021 and 20% in 2020, citing drinking 6 or more standard drinks in past 30 days. Binge drinking as a typical pattern again continues to peak among men, with almost 1 in 3 male drinkers (32%) reporting doing so (35% in 2022, 31% in 2021, 27% in 2020). Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, 36% of drinkers reported that they had binge drank in 2018 *Note wording updated, therefore comparison is not direct – 19% Irish adults reported drinking more than 6 standard drinks in the past year on a weekly basis (incorporating 1% daily and 18% weekly) and 17% reported doing so monthly in past year. 

    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 (DoH 2023). Men are much more likely than women to binge drink on a typical drinking occasion in the past 12 months (37% and 12% respectively), with younger people more likely to do so than older people (aged 15-24: 36%, 75+ year olds: 7%) 

    Previous data from the 2022 Healthy Ireland Survey identified that 13% of those who binge drink on a typical drinking occasion in 2022 reported that children aged under 16 are present on at least some of these occasions. 27% of parents who binge drink report the same – 29% of fathers and 24% of mothers. In 2023 Healthy Ireland Survey 24% of parents of children under 18 report that they binge drink on a typical drinking occasion, with fathers (39%) more likely to do so than mothers (11%). 

    Drinkaware Index data showed that close to one in five (19%) Irish drinkers report consumption of seven or more standard drinks on a typical day of drinking in 2019 i.e., exceeding binge drinking levels. The Drinkaware Index also provides data on hazardous consumption among younger adults, finding that 34% of under 25s consume six-plus standard drinks on a single occasion each week in 2019– the highest percentage among any age group and almost double the 18% of 25-34-year-olds consuming at that level on a weekly basis. 

    When asked to recall the number of occasions in the previous year that they had six or more standard drinks on a single occasion, Irish drinkers reported an average of 16 occasions (Drinkaware, 2019). This question has not been repeated in subsequent Barometers. 

    In terms of frequency of binge drinking, 56% of adults who drink have engaged in binge drinking in past 30 days according to Barometer 2023 data, peaking among male drinkers (64%) and 18-24 yr olds who drink (72%), as well as a continued overall increase among adult drinkers on previous years (55% in 2022, 49% in 2021, 46% in 2020). Recent changes in consumption are most stark in the younger adult age cohorts. At the same time, the 18-24-year and 25–34-year cohorts both report higher levels of any binge drinking in the past 30 days – 72% and 63% respectively compared to the national average of 56%. 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). In addition, UK research found that while young adults aged 18-24 years are more likely to be non-drinkers, the rise in non-drinking rates among this age group does not necessarily reveal the full story. For instance, young adults are more likely to binge drink compared to drinkers aged 25 years and over.    

    In a research study of Trinity College Dublin health science students, 71% of respondents met the criteria for binge drinking. The same trend was previously documented in the Irish Health Survey (2019) where the 15 – 24 age group reported the highest levels for drinking 6 or more units of alcohol in one sitting at least once a month, with 48% of this group reporting doing so.  

    Data from the Healthy Ireland Survey 2016 used in reporting the WHO (World Health Organisation) Status Report shows that pre-COVID-19 in 2016, 37.8% of the total population in Ireland aged 15+years reported consumption of at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days i.e., heavy episodic drinking. This figure is higher than the EU average for heavy episodic drinking (30.4%). When drinkers only (15+years) in the total population were accounted for, the same figure rose to 46.5% in 2016.  

     

    Hazardous drinking may also occur where consumption exceeds the recommended HSE weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines (17 standard drinks for men and 11 standard drinks for women, spread across the week with at least 2 drink free days) but harm may not yet have been experienced. In other words, drinking in a hazardous manner means that although they have not yet experienced harm, the person is likely to in the future. It is also possible to drink hazardously by binge drinking (six or more standard drinks in one sitting), even if the guidelines are adhered to. The AUDIT tool, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) (Babor et al 2001), is used to measure an individual’s level of risk and/or harm in relation to their alcohol consumption patterns. The AUDIT-C is completed in the Barometer series based on consumption in the last 30 days. It is a modified, three question version of the AUDIT instrument used to provide a measure of consumption only. A score of less than 5 indicates lower risk drinking and scores of 5+ AUDIT-C positive, a classification that indicates a propensity to increasing, or hazardous, drinking. Based on those that consumed alcohol in 2023, 53% of Irish adults that consumed alcohol in the last 30 days scored less than 5 on AUDIT-C (lower risk drinking). However, 47% had scores of 5+ AUDIT-C positive, a classification that indicates a propensity to increasing, or hazardous, drinking. The 2023 incidence of AUDIT C 5+ score peaks among males (56%) and individuals in family pre-teen life stage (57%). From 2020, over 4 out of 10 adults that have consumed alcohol score +5 on AUDIT-C and the 47% figure for 2023 represents an increase on previous years (47% in 2022, 44% in 2021, 42% in 2020). 

    Pre-COVID-19 research also examined hazardous consumption through application of the AUDIT-C. For example, in the Drinkaware Index (2019) the AUDIT establishes that, among Irish adults who drink, 21% exhibit alcohol-related behaviours that are hazardous and of increasing risk (Zone 2). A further 4% are in the harmful/higher risk and possible dependence cohorts, Zones 3 and 4. The AUDIT also located 75% of Irish drinkers, in Zone 1, defined as low risk. However, applying this additional test to the initial low risk category, Zone 1, reveals that 31% of drinkers in this group can be defined as AUDIT-C positive, a classification that indicates a propensity to increasing, or hazardous, drinking. This refines the findings in relation to the overall drinking population, dividing the low-risk group into two more distinct groupings: Zone 1: low risk and Zone 1 (AUDIT-C positive): potential risk. 

    More than one-half (51.1%) of all drinkers in Ireland aged 15+ in the 2023 Healthy Ireland Survey were classified as hazardous drinkers using the AUDIT-C screening tool; this was more common among males (65.7%) than females (34.2%), particularly younger males.  

    Trends in the proportion of drinkers with a positive AUDIT-C score are available since the 2010–11 National Drug and Alcohol Survey and indicate a decline from 57.6% of drinkers in 2010–11 to 53.5% in 2019–20. The greatest decline was noted in the 25–34 years age group, among whom the proportion of drinkers with a positive AUDIT-C score decreased by 8.9%, from 62.7% in 2010–11 to 57.1% in 2019–20. 

    Other research conducted by HRB found that 73% of men and 41% of women met the criteria for hazardous drinking using the AUDIT-C. In this study, almost one half of drinkers had a hazardous or harmful pattern of drinking; 38% engaged in monthly risky single occasion drinking (RSOD) and 10.5% met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version IV (DSMIV) criteria for alcohol dependence. The second Irish Health Survey (2019) also found that more men (37%) than women (28%) reported drinking 6 or more units of alcohol in one sitting at least once a month.
     

    Gender and binge drinking comparisons  

    Men are more likely than women to engage in binge drinking in Ireland. In line with previous Healthy Ireland survey results, data from 2023 shows that men are more likely than women to binge drink on a typical drinking occasion in the past 12 months (37% and 12% respectively). Binge drinking as a typical pattern again continues to peak among men in the Barometer series, with almost 1 in 3 male drinkers (32%) reporting doing so when drinking in the past 30 days (35% in 2022, 31% in 2021, 27% in 2020). 19% of female drinkers report typical binge drinking in the past 30 days in 2023 (20% in 2022, 14% in 2021, 13% in 2020). 

    Other Irish research found hazardous alcohol consumption reported by 51.1% of the population, 31.5% of women and 69.8% of men (total sample n=1075).  

    The Drinkaware Index (2019) also provides important data on binge drinking in terms of gender, revealing that men in Ireland, particularly under-34s, are exhibiting consistent hazardous drinking patterns. On average, Irish men who drink, binge drink almost twice a month – 22 times in a year – versus women who do so 10 times a year. Of Irish men who drink, one-in-four (26%) binge drink on a weekly basis, compared to 10% of women. 

      

    Alcohol-related harm and hazardous drinking  

    Alcohol-related harm and the level of risk is determined not only by the volume of alcohol consumed, but also to the pattern of the drinker and occasions of high-volume drinking such as heavy episodic (or binge) drinking (HED) 

    Using the WHO alcohol use disorder test (AUDIT), the Drinkaware Index identified hazardous/increasing risk drinkers (21% of the drinking population) as well as a subset of drinkers within the low-risk group who can be classified as at potential risk, and who constitute 23% of the drinking population. Significantly, this group were classified as at potential risk of becoming hazardous drinkers within what was previously considered a broadly low risk cohort. Furthermore, 24% of adults in Ireland who drink believe they are likely to experience future health problems if they continue to drink at their current levels.  

    Recent research conducted by the Health Research Board in Ireland has found that majority of alcohol consumption and related harms in the Irish population are accounted for by low- and moderate-risk drinkers (i.e., drinkers who were not dependent on alcohol), and specifically by those who engage in heavy episodic drinking.  Together, monthly and occasional HED drinkers accounted for 62% of all drinkers, consumed 70% of alcohol and accounted for 59% of alcohol-related harms. 

    Data from the National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019-2020 identified that the majority of drinkers (74.1%) classified themselves as either a light or moderate drinker. A further one-quarter (24.1%) of drinkers classified themselves as a light drinker who sometimes binge drinks or a moderate drinker who sometimes binge drinks, and 1.7% classified themselves as either a heavy drinker or as a heavy drinker who sometimes binge drinks. Among those with AUD, just 7.0% classified themselves as a heavy drinker, whereas 44.4% classified themselves as a light or a moderate drinker.  

    Drinkers reported a range of negative consequences as a result of their own drinking in the National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019-2020. This included role impairment (for example, at work, at school, or when taking care of the household), accidentally hurt yourself, been in a fight, harm to home life or marriage, and harm to health. The proportion of drinkers who reported at least one of these harms was 13.5%, ranging from 3.1% who experienced harm to their home life or marriage to 10.2% who had accidentally hurt themselves. Males were more likely than females to experience any harm (17.3% versus 9.8%) and those aged 15–24 years were most likely to experience harm (27.6%). Experiencing harm was associated with drinking pattern. Low-risk drinkers (defined as those who did not engage in regular HED or meet the criteria for AUD) were least likely to experience any harm (5.2%), while those with AUD were 13 times more likely to experience harm (67.1%).  

     

    Almost 1 in 4 (24%) adults that reported reducing alcohol consumption in the 2023 Barometer  cited the behaviour of others as a consequence of excessive drinking as an influence for drinking less. 14% had a bad experience when drunk that they don’t want to repeat, while this peaked among 18–24-year-olds who had reduced consumption with 24% citing it as an influence for drinking less.  Overall, nearly 2/3 of adults (63%) who had reduced consumption cite physical health or fitness as a reason for drinking less with 31% citing mental health as an influence for reduced drinking. 

     

    In addition, previous Healthy Ireland data from 2018 found that 54% of drinkers who also smoke, binge on a typical drinking occasion, compared with 33% of non-smokers who drink. The survey also found that 8% of drinkers have failed to do what was normally expected from them in the past 12 months because of drinking. 

     

  • Problem alcohol use in Ireland

    The prevalence of alcohol use disorders is 8.5% in Ireland vs WHO (World Health Organisation) European region 8.8% and alcohol dependence of 3.8% in Ireland vs WHO European region 3.7% as recorded in 2016. However, gender differences in terms of prevalence are apparent with alcohol use disorders accounting for 13% of males and 4.1% of females, while alcohol dependence break down was 5.8% for males and 1.8% for females. This dataset has yet to be updated since 2016. 
      

    The Health Research Board provides data on treated problem alcohol use in Ireland through data taken from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System. Over 7,400 cases were treated for problematic alcohol use in Ireland in 2022. Between 2021 and 2022, the number of treated cases increased by 8.2%, from 6,859 cases to 7,421 cases following a period of decline between 2016 and 2020. In 2022, the median age at which cases first started drinking alcohol was 16 years. Almost two-in-every-three (65.3%) cases were classified as alcohol dependent. The median age of cases was 42 years. Six-in-ten (61.5%) cases were male. Almost two-in-every-three (65.3%) cases were classified as alcohol dependent.  Among cases seeking treatment for alcohol use for the first time, the majority (64.0%) were classified as alcohol dependent. Seven-in-ten (68.1%) previously treated cases were classified as alcohol dependent. Polydrug use (problem use of more than one substance) was reported by almost one quarter (24.2%) of cases. This was an increase from 23.7% in 2021. Analysis of trends between 2016-2022 found that the median number of standard drinks consumed on a typical drinking day has increased from 15 in 2016 to 18 in 2022. Many cases in treatment had been drinking more in a typical day than is recommended in a week based on HSE low-risk guidelines.  

  • Alcohol abstinence in Ireland

    Rates of abstaining from alcohol in Ireland are relatively consistent across numerous studies conducted during different years. WHO (World Health Organisation) Global Health Observatory data from 2016 shows that the proportion of adults (aged 15+) who have not consumed any alcohol during the past 12 months, assessed a given point in time, was 18.7% in Ireland in 2016 (10.5% male, 26.9% female). The percentage of lifetime abstainers in Ireland in 2016 was 7.4% (3.5% male, 11.2% female). While there were 11.4% former drinkers in 2016 (7% male, 15.7% female). 

    Data on abstention in the WHO European region identified 59.9% current drinkers, 16.6% former drinkers and 23.5% lifetime abstainers in 2016.  

    18% of adults in the 2023 Barometer report not drinking (this encompasses 9% not in the past 30 days, 9% never drink alcohol). This rises to over 1/5 of adults aged 65+ years with 23% of adults in this age cohort not drinking.  

    30% of participants in the latest Healthy Ireland survey do not report consuming alcohol in past 12 months. Those most likely to be non-drinkers were women aged 75 years and over (49%) in contrast to 41% of men in the same age group. With the exception of older women, there were few overall sex differences in non-drinkers.  

    This means that almost one-in-three people aged 15 years and over do not drink at all, with an increase in abstainers from 25% in 2018 to 30% in 2022. 

    Data on abstention is also available in the 2019–20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey. One-quarter of respondents (25.7%) did not consume alcohol in the 12 months prior to the NDAS (defined as non-drinkers). Females (28.4%) were more likely than males (23.1%) to be non-drinkers. The highest proportion of non-drinkers was in the 65 years and older age group (45.2% of females and 36.6% of males), followed by the 15–24-year-old age group (28.2%). The proportion of non-drinkers varied by level of deprivation – 30.0% of those in the most deprived quintile were non-drinkers, compared with 21.4% in the least deprived quintile.   

    The HRB (Health Research Board) notes that it is likely that patterns of drinking and heavy alcohol consumption may be more problematic in Ireland compared with other countries with similar per capita consumption due to our high number of abstainers. 

  • Alcohol consumption among under 18s in Ireland

    According to international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) SURVEY HBSC data, alcohol is the substance most used by 15-year-olds. 59% of 15-year-olds have ever drunk alcohol compared with 28% for cigarette-smoking and 13% for cannabis use.  

    One‑in-five adolescents, on average, experienced drunkenness at least twice in their life in 2017‑18, in 26 OECD countries.
     

     The 2019 ESPAD (European Schools Project on Alcohol and other Drugs), is a cross-sectional survey of substance use among 99,647 students aged 15–16 years in 35 countries in Europe, reported that 79% of schoolchildren had drunk alcohol at least once by the time they were aged 16 years, and almost one-half (47%) reported drinking alcohol in the last month. To date, Ireland has participated in seven data-collection waves that have been conducted across 39 countries in Europe. In the Irish 2019 data-collection wave, a total of 1949 students aged 15-16 years old (born in 2003) from a random sample of post-primary schools completed a questionnaire on issues including alcohol use, cigarette smoking and e-cigarette use, cannabis and other illegal drug use, gambling, gaming, and internet use. Schoolchildren in Ireland reported a lower rate of lifetime alcohol use (73%) than the ESPAD average (79%) and a lower rate of last month alcohol use (41% in Ireland) than the ESPAD average (47%). However, rates of reporting being drunk in the last month were higher in Ireland (16%) than the ESPAD average (13%). Increased alcohol use was associated with lower parental education levels and lower parental monitoring, as well as with truancy, lower school grades, and peer alcohol use. The reasons given most frequently for using alcohol were to make social gatherings more fun (49%) and to help respondents “to enjoy a party” (48%). 

    A study published in the Lancet analysed data from 195 countries and territories from 1990 to 2016 to investigate adolescent health and well-being. The study found that Ireland had the third highest level in the world of female adolescent HED (or binge drinking) in the last year (61%) and the fourth highest level of male adolescent HED (59%).  

    A 2016 study using ESPAD and HBSC data, investigated the alcohol drinking cultures of European adolescents (aged 12–16 years) and found that adolescents in Ireland were ranked second among 25 European countries for the level of risky drinking (27%), while the rate of non-drinkers in Ireland (40%) was below the European average (44%).  

    The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that monitors the health behaviours, health outcomes and social environments of school-aged children every four years across 44 countries and regions in Europe, central Asia and Canada. HBSC Ireland surveys school-going children aged 9-18 years. Data collection is now complete for the most recent HBSC 2022 survey round with over 10,000 participants. The HBSC Ireland national report on data collection during 2022 is due for publication in early 2024.  The most recent data available from the (HBSC) survey was carried out in 2018 by NUIG. The 2018 findings report a decrease in alcohol consumption among teenagers overall, with an increase of 6% of children reporting not having an alcoholic drink and 4% decrease in children reporting being drunk). For instance, 69% of children report that they have never had an alcoholic drink vs 58% in 2014. 17% of children report having had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days vs 20% in 2014. Similarly, 17% of children reported having been ‘really drunk’ (21% in 2014).  

    This research study also provides data on the ease at which young people get alcohol with the most common source of alcohol among 12-17 years olds coming from a parent, guardian, or friend, while the most common location for alcohol consumption being someone else’s home or their own (54%). 

    Findings from a three-year independent evaluation of Drinkaware’s Alcohol Education Programme conducted by Maynooth University corroborate this data. For instance, 57% of 3rd year students had first consumed alcohol either in their own or someone else’s home, most saying they did so with little difficulty whilst only 1 in 4 said they got into trouble with parents for drinking. In addition, over four out of ten (44%) 3rd year students cited tolerant parental views regarding alcohol.  

    Data from the 2023 Barometer shows that young adults 18-24 are more likely to report being with their parents when they had their first alcoholic drink compared to other adult age cohorts (43% report doing so). Young people with permission to drink at home have been found to experience more alcohol-related harms than those who did not have permission. 

    Growing Up in Ireland (GUI)is a significant national longitudinal study of children in Ireland. Analysing alcohol consumption habits over time, the findings indicate that 15% of 13-year-olds stated that they had ever consumed alcohol, but that figure increased markedly to 89% by the age of 17/18. At 17/18 years, 77% of all young adults drank alcohol once per week or less, while just over 5% drank alcohol more than once per week.  

    The latest My World Survey developed by the UCD School of Psychology and Jigsaw (2020), The National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland, also provides evidence of the drinking patterns of secondary school children. Results from My World Survey 2 found that most first-years (92%) reported that they had never drank alcohol with 81% of second-years, 63% of third-years, 41% of fourth-years, 24% of fifth years and only 13% of sixth years reporting that they had never drank alcohol. Of those who had drank alcohol, 65% fell into the low-risk drinking range, 28% were classified as problem drinkers, 4% as harmful and hazardous drinkers, and 3% as potentially alcohol-dependent. Males were more likely than females to fall into the possible alcohol dependence category.  

      

    Age of First Drink:
    In terms of ‘age of first drink,’ the Drinkaware Index (2019) previously identified that the average at which respondents (aged 18+) have tried alcohol for the first time is 15.5 years. A slight increase in age of first alcoholic drink is reported in Drinkaware data. Overall, when 2023 findings are compared with 2018 – Irish adults cited that they had their first alcoholic drink on average at 16 years and a slight increase in age of first alcoholic drink is reported (mean 15.8 years for both 2023 and 2022 vs mean 15.5 years in 2018).  However, this appears to be getting younger for young adults – at 15.4 years for those aged under 35 in the 2023 Barometer . Delay is an important protective factor for hazardous drinking and developing alcohol dependency later in life.Recent Australian research highlights that alcohol initiation prior to age 15 appears to be associated with an earlier onset of hazardous drinking than initiation after age 15. 

     

    Among those (aged 15+) who participated in the 2019–20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey, the mean age of first use of alcohol was found to be 17.7 years (median: 17 years). There has also been an increase in the age of first use of alcohol among those aged 15–24 years; in 2002–03, the mean age of first use was 15.6 years (median: 16 years), and this increased with each survey to 16.6 years (median: 17 years) in 2019–20.  

    Among 17–18-year-olds interviewed in 2015-2016 for the Growing Up in Ireland study, of the 90% who had consumed alcohol, 8% reported that they first consumed alcohol at age 13 years or under; 11% at age 14 years; 20% at age 15 years; 29% at age 16 years; 19% at age 17–18 years. Most of them (67%) reported having had their first alcoholic drink between the ages of 15 and 17 years (mean = 15.4 years). When interviewed at 20 years of age, 96% reported consuming alcohol and the respondents stated that the average age they had started drinking alcohol was 16 years.  

    Type of Alcohol Consumed:
    Sex differences in types of drinks consumed are presented in the 2019 ESPAD cross-sectional survey. Beer was the most consumed alcoholic drink in the last month (36%) among boys participating in the survey, followed by cider (32%). Females were more likely to consume spirits (32%) and cider (25%).  

    Drinking Motivations: 
    Among 2019 ESPAD respondents in Ireland, both males and females most frequently cited social reasons for drinking alcohol, including making social gatherings more fun (49% for both males and females) and helping them enjoy parties (47% of males and 49% of females). Of concern is the number of adolescents reporting that they drink alcohol to cheer up (19% of males and 25% of females) and to forget about their problems (17% of males and 23% of females).  

    Treatment for alcohol use
    Unpublished data from the NDTRS shows that in 2022, 76 (1.0%) cases aged under 18 were in treatment for alcohol as a main problem drug. This has decreased from 124 (1.6%) in 2016. 76 cases entered alcohol treatment under the age of 18 in 2022. 

     

    Underage drinking and legislation

    You must be 18 or over to buy alcohol in Ireland. It is an offence to: 

    • Serve alcohol to a person who is under 18 
    • Pretend to be 18 or over to buy alcohol 
    • Buy alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 
    • Give alcohol to a person who is under 18, unless it is in someone’s home, and the child has the consent of their parents 

     

    Alcohol at Home
    The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study identifies children aged 12 to 17 who have ever had alcohol are most likely to report that a parent or guardian gave it to them or that it was supplied by friends. Collectively more than half of teens who drink are accessing it at home, either being given it by a parent (34%) or sibling (9%) or taking it from the home (11%). In addition, 56% are consuming alcohol in the home setting – either their own (26%) or someone else’s home (30%).   

    This data correlates to Maynooth University data from an evaluation of Drinkaware’s Alcohol Education Programme that found 41% of the students who indicated they had consumed alcohol on at least one occasion, had done so in the home. 

     

    The majority of teenagers from the North Dublin Region in a recently published study conducted by TCD Medical school on behalf of North Dublin Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force were found to be obtaining alcohol from their parents, other adults and friends. 

    Nearly half of parents (48%) agree that they have specific rules on drinking around their children (compared with 44% in 2022). Previous qualitative research conducted in Ireland in 2022 found that while parents did not have an issue with children knowing or seeing them drink, they conveyed that some kinds of drinking were more acceptable than others. In so doing, the parents in this study created boundaries regarding a desirable and controlled narrative about their drinking e.g. only drinking at the weekend, as well as role modelling behaviours. This is important when considering 2023 Barometer also finds that young adults 18-24 are more likely to report being with their parents when they had their first alcoholic drink. Young people with permission to drink at home have been found to experience more alcohol-related harms than those who did not have permission. 

  • Alcohol consumption among older people in Ireland

    Older adults tend to drink less than younger drinkers and the impact of alcohol consumption among older people is often overlooked in research. However, across all adult age cohorts, the 50+ years age cohorts report the highest levels of weekly+ drinking in 2023(62% 50–64-year-olds and 61% of 65+ year olds). Across households/life stage, there is statistically significant peak among empty nesters with 2/3 (66%) reporting drinking on weekly+ basis in past 30 days. The 65+year age cohort also reported lowest frequency of any binge drinking in past 30 days (41%).  

    According to Healthy Ireland 2023 data, older people are less likely to report typically engaging in binge drinking in the past 12 months (7% of 75+ year olds) than younger people (36% of 15–24-year-olds). 

    Healthy Ireland Survey data from 2022 found that 38% of men aged between 65-74 binge drink, compared to 4% of women the same age. In addition, 27% of men aged 75+ binge drink compared to less than 1% of women of the same age. However, high levels of hazardous drinking patterns among adults aged 65 years and over in Ireland have previously been identified in the 2016 Healthy Ireland survey with one-third (33.5%) of those aged over 65 years classified as hazardous drinkers according to the WHO’s AUDIT-C screening tool. Two-fifths (40.4%) of males aged 65 years and over engaged in monthly HED.  

    The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal study on ageing with more than 8,500 participants aged 50 years and over, has collected data on alcohol. 1.8% of older Irish adults reported a diagnosed history of alcohol or substance abuse and the rate was highest in men aged 65–74 years (3.9%). The overall prevalence of ‘problem drinking’ (defined as a CAGE score of 3 or more) was higher at 4.8%.  

    More recent research published by the TILDA team focusing on evidence across the three waves, found that men and women drank more frequently over time, with frequency decreasing with age for women. Average weekly consumption decreased over time and with increasing age. Transitions in self-rated health, particularly those reflecting poorer health, were associated with lower frequency and weekly consumption. Heavy episodic drinking decreased with age. Men who were retired across all waves were more likely to engage in heavy episodic drinking at baseline. 

  • Health inequalities and alcohol consumption in Ireland

    Significant inequalities exist in patterns of consumption among certain population groups.  

    Lower socio-economic groups (SES) experience higher levels of alcohol harm than more socially advantaged groups with the same level of consumption, with higher rates of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality in lower SES groups. This is also known as the‘alcohol harm paradox.’  

    Individuals with a lower socio-economic status (SES) are more negatively affected by the effects of alcohol, while adolescents with lower SES have been found to experience significantly higher patterns of heavy episodic drinking.  

    This is despite data from the Irish Health Survey 2019 reporting that affluent persons report higher prevalence levels of alcohol consumption than disadvantaged persons, with 83% of Very affluent persons reporting that they drink alcohol compared to 70% of Very disadvantaged persons.  

    Analysis of data on alcohol specific deaths in Northen Ireland across five years (2018 to 2022) shows that there were over three times as many alcohol-specific deaths in the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland compared to the least deprived areas. 

    In the latest data from 2023 Barometer/ weekly consumption was higher among higher socio-economic groups (61%) vs lower socio-economic groups (55%). However, no difference in typical binge drinking in the past 30 days is reported, with 26% drinkers from both groups doing so in 2023. 

    In addition, adults aged 18+ in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to report a lower starting age when they first tried alcohol. For instance, individuals in social classes C2, D, E previously reported 15.5 years as their average starting age, with social class F reporting 13.1 years. This is in comparison to 16 years for social classes ABC1 (Drinkaware, 2019). The difference between the socio-economic groups has narrowed since when data from 2023 Barometer is considered. Individuals from lower socio-economic groups report a mean starting age of 15.95, compared to 15.69 for higher socio-economic groups. 

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