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The World’s Drunks: The Irish 2007-03-14

Posted by clype in Europe, Health, Intolerance.
Tags: , , ,

Ireland has the highest rates of binge-drinking in the world and the Irish spend more, and are increasingly spending more on alcohol than any other country.

Ireland has the highest rates of binge-drinking in the European Union, a survey exploring attitudes to alcohol has indicated.

Finland came second and and Britain, third in the ‘Eurobarometer‘ survey. By comparison, in Italy and Greece, only 2 per cent of people said they did binge-drink (defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting).

The survey comes just a few days before Ireland, and much of the world, celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day.


Ireland 34 per cent

Finland 27 per cent

UK 24 per cent

Denmark 23 per cent

Portugal 4 per cent

Italy 2 per cent

Greece 2 per cent

Source: Eurobarometer

Binge-drinking is a particular problem among young people, with almost a fifth of the 15/24 age group usually binge-drinking when consuming alcohol, according to the results of the survey on attitudes towards alcohol, presented by ‘The European Commission‘ on Thursday.

According to the data, men drink more than women, and one in 10 Europeans usually drinks five or more drinks in one session.

Almost eight out of 10 Europeans agree with putting warnings on alcohol bottles and adverts to warn pregnant women and drivers of the dangers of drinking alcohol.

Irish debate

One in three Irish people questioned in the EU survey regularly binge-drink.

In Ireland, there is an ongoing public debate about attitudes to alcohol, especially among young people. The Catholic Church has added its voice to those warning of the dangers to society of alcohol abuse.

Saint Patrick’s Day on 17 March, the feast day for Ireland’s patron saint, can be the cue for heavy drinking.

In recent years there has been much concern about under-age drinking on Irish streets on Saint Patrick’s Day and some of the resulting problems, including violence, our correspondent says.

This year, police will patrol outside many off-licences where alcohol is sold and there have been calls for stores selling alcoholic drinks to restrict their opening hours in order to try to prevent excessive drinking.

A report funded by the European Commission and produced by ‘The UK Institute of Alcohol Studies‘, has said a higher proportion of income in Ireland is spent on alcohol than in any other European Union country.

The report (published today, 2006-06-01) also says that Irish people are the biggest binge drinkers in the EU.

  • The survey shows that Ireland is spending three times more than any other country and ten times more than Greece.

Young Irish people also top their table for binge drinking. The report shows 32 percent of 15 and 16-year-olds had binge drunk three or more times in the month.

The Netherlands is second on that table with 28 per cent.

[Picture of chart]
Figure 3.4 Household expenditure on alcohol in the EU15 in 1999.Notes: The scale ignores Irish beer expenditure of 1 200 EUR-PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) as this would distort the scale. Sweden has no beverage-specific data available.Source: Household Budget Survey 1999, Eurostat.

Household alcohol spending is three times more than any European household. The Irish spend on average 1 675 EUR on alcohol — followed by Denmark which spends 531 EUR.

By far the greatest proportion and level of expenditure on alcohol in Europe is found in Ireland, with each household spending nearly 17 008 EUR-PPP on alcohol each year.

  • This is three times the level of any other country, and over ten times as much as Greece (see Figure 3.4 above).

More generally, expenditure is much lower in the wine producing countries than in the rest of the EU15, reflecting the relatively low price of alcohol in Southern Europe.

The proportion of expenditure on different types of drink tends to follow the same pattern as consumption in general, although with certain exceptions such as Greece spending proportionally more than Finland on spirits, and Belgium spending more of its alcohol expenditure on wine than Spain.

The total spend on alcohol has increased in most of Europe since data were first collected systematically in 1988 (with the increase happening primarily in the early 1990s), yet increasing wealth in the EU15 also means that proportionally less of disposable income is spent on alcohol in most countries (see Figure 3.4 above).

The report shows that alcohol is a key cause of harm to people other than the drinker, including some 60 000 underweight births throughout Europe, 10 000 ‘innocent’ deaths that occur to bystanders or passengers from drink drivers and up to 2 000 murders that occur each year.

Studies from the United Kingdom and Ireland indicate that one third of intimate partner violence occurs when the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol. Violence against strangers is more likely to involve alcohol than is violence against intimate partners.

The following is an extract from Chapter 4 of the report:

EU is the heaviest drinking region of the world

The European Union is the heaviest drinking region of the world, with each adult drinking 11 litres of pure alcohol each year –- a level over two-and-a-half times the rest of the world’s average (WHO 2004).

This high level is in fact a considerable fall from the highest point of over 15 litres in the mid-1970s, a peak which followed a period of rising consumption levels across most of Europe.

Since then there has been a general plateau across Europe, with the exception of a substantial fall in the wine-producing countries of southern Europe, and a continuing rise in alcohol consumption in Ireland.

This contrasts with persistently rising alcohol consumption in south-east Asia and the western Pacific (see Figure 4.1 below), although drinking in the Americas (at just under 7 litres), the next highest-consuming world region, follows a similar trend to Europe.

Just under half of this alcohol is consumed in the form of beer (44 per cent), with the rest divided between wine (34 per cent) and spirits (23 per cent).

Within the EU15, northern and central parts drink mainly beer, while those in southern Europe drink mainly wine (although Spain may be an exception). This is a relatively new phenomenon, with a harmonization visible over the past 40 years in the EU15.

[Picture of chart]
Figure 4.1 Europe and the world’s drinking
Sources: Global Status Report on Alcohol (WHO 2004);
EU figures are taken from WHO Health for All Database and WHO Global Alcohol Database (as below). Averages are population-weighted.

Around 40 per cent of drinking occasions in most of the EU15 are consumed with the afternoon/evening meal, although those in southern Europe are much more likely to drink with lunch than elsewhere. While the level of daily drinking also shows a north/south gradient, non-daily frequent consumption seems to be more common in central Europe, and there is evidence for a recent harmonization within the EU15.

Drinking to drunkenness varies across Europe, with fewer southern Europeans than others reporting getting drunk each month.

This pattern is attenuated when ‘binge-drinking’, a measure of drinking beyond a certain number of drinks in a single occasion, is instead investigated, suggesting that there are systematic differences in either or both of people’s willingness to report being intoxicated or the length of a ‘single occasion’. The studies of binge-drinking also show occasional exceptions to the north-south pattern, in particular suggesting that

Sweden has one of the lowest rates of binge-drinking in the EU15.

Summing up across the EU15, adults report getting drunk 5 times per year on average but binge-drink 17 times. This is equivalent to 40 million EU15 citizens ‘drinking too much’ monthly and 100 million (1 in 3) binge-drinking at least once per month.

Much fewer data are available for the EU10, but that which exists suggests that some of the wine-drinking is replaced by spirits, the frequency of drinking is lower, and the frequency of binge-drinking higher than in the EU15.

While 266 million adults drink alcohol up to 20g (women) or 40g (men) per day, over 58 million adults (15 per cent) consume above this level, with 20 million of these (6 per cent) drinking at over 40g (women) or 60g per day (men).

Looking at addiction rather than drinking levels, we can also estimate that 23 million Europeans (5 per cent of men, 1 per cent of women) are dependent on alcohol in any one year.

In every culture ever studied, men are more likely than women to drink at all and to drink more when they do, with the gap greater for riskier behaviour.

It is hard to find evidence that this gender gap has decreased for most aspects of drinking, although the gender gap in drunkenness is lowest in young adults. Although many women give up alcohol when pregnant, a significant number (25 per cent/50 per cent) continue to drink — and some continue to drink to harmful levels.

Patterns in drinking behaviour can also be seen for socio-economic status (SES), where those with lower SES are less likely to drink alcohol at all.

[Picture of chart]
Figure 4.2 Alcohol consumption in Europe, 2002
Sources: WHO Health for All database and WHO GBD study (Rehm et al 2004).
* No estimate available for unrecorded consumption in Malta; APN update of WHO figures used for Slovakia; unrecorded consumption in Lux. is minus 2 litres due to tourist consumption. Lux is also high because many of its workers live in neighbouring countries.

Most countries show a rise in binge-drinking for boys from 1995/9 to 2003, and nearly all countries show this for girls (similar results are found for non-ESPAD countries using other data).

This is due to a rise in binge-drinking and drunkenness across most of the EU 1995/9, followed by a much more ambivalent trend since (1999/2003).

A narrowed gap between the EU10 and EU15 is also visible for binge-drinking and drunkenness, due to both the size of the changes and a continued rise in parts of the EU10, particularly for girls, and accompanied by rises in other aspects of consumption (e.g. last occasion consumption).

Trends are more ambivalent for many other aspects of drinking, however, such as frequency of drinking and estimated total consumption.

While there is, therefore, no evidence that young people’s use of alcohol has increased in the last decade, it does appear that there is a trend towards increased risky use, particularly in the EU10.

Download report.

“The EU wants to stop binge drinking by slapping extra tax on our booze.” — The Sun, 22 February 2006, p.2

‘The Sun’ confuses two issues here: taxation and health concerns related to alcohol. ‘The European Commission’ is looking at both issues separately, at the request by the relevant ministers in the EU member states (including the UK).

On taxation: The member states’ finance ministers asked in April 2005 ‘The European Commission’ to draw up a proposal to adjust the minimum rates of excise duty on alcohol in line with inflation. This was last done in 1992.

On health: ‘The European Commission’ does not have the power, nor does it seek the power, to impose restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

However, the member states have requested ‘The European Commission’ to prepare a paper on alcohol related harm and to come up with concrete proposals to address problems related to alcohol and young people.

Commissioner for health and consumer affairs Mr.Markus Kyprianou is concerned about the negative health and social effects which excessive consumption of alcohol can cause (e.g. heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drink driving) – one in four deaths in car accidents is related to drink driving. He is keen to protect young people in particular from these negative effects.


1. zythophile - 2009-01-25

Of course the Irish spend more on drink than the Greeks – tax on drink in Ireland is vastly greater than in Mediterranean countries.

Of greater concern is the entitrely arbitrary definition of “binge drinking”, at five “drinks” per session, and the entirely unjustified assumption that (a) this is harmful (evidence, please) and (b) it is legislators’ job to ‘protect’ us. Markus Kyprianou is responsible for his own alcohol consumption – he shouldn’t be responsible for mine. or any other adult’s

2. kdance - 2009-08-19

Binge drinking at five drinks a session? really? thats just a casual drink for most people i know and yes i’m irish so im going to think higher isnt as bad but on a night out i might have anything up to 30 units which is 15 pints of lager

3. Marie - 2010-03-26


richard haverty - 2011-12-31

yes we irish are heavy drinkers, how many of us die,
we blame it on something else, i had a bad drink problem
if i i did not stop i would be underground. we irish
must take a look at ourselves binge drinking
will kill you and take away your heart and soul.
aa saved my life, god bless.

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