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Irish drinking rate drops over 30% in two decades

22 Apr 2024 / ireland Print

Irish drinking rate drops over 30% in two decades

Alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen to a rate over 30% lower than two decades ago, Health Research Board (HRB) research has shown.

Ireland’s average alcohol consumption now stands below that of Britain and most European countries, including Spain, France and Germany.  

However, the latest HRB alcohol overview shows that, that despite a decline in pubs, Ireland still ranks third highest globally for the number of pubs per head.

Since the last HRB overview in 2021, Ireland’s per capita alcohol use has dropped from the ninth highest among 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries to the 16th highest.

However, the decline in the number of pubs is matched by an increase in off licences. 

Geospatial analysis

Lead author of the report Anne Doyle said geospatial analysis found there is a greater density of licensed premises in deprived communities. 

“This is significant because evidence shows that people in deprived areas are more likely to experience alcohol-related harms, despite consumption being lower or equal to affluent areas,” she said.

Most alcohol use now takes place in the home, so it is increasingly difficult for drinkers to monitor their alcohol use, the HRB states.

The findings are part of a wider HRB overview which examines the health and social consequences of alcohol use, and reviews the measures to reduce use and prevent harm.  

Findings show:  

  • The average annual consumption for over-15s last year was 9.9 litres of pure alcohol, or 37 bottles of vodka (70cl), 104 bottles of wine or 400 pints of beer, 
  • Almost one-in-three people over 15 do not drink at all, with an increase in abstainers from 25% in 2018 to 30% in 2022.   

The report examines how harmful and hazardous drinking patterns impact health and health services:  

  • Alcohol use is the eighth leading cause of death in Ireland with one person dying every day due to alcohol-related liver disease, and more than one-in-three road user fatalities had been drinking prior to the incident,
  •  One-in-five emergency hospitalisations are due to alcohol and almost 19,000 hospitalisations were attributable to alcohol alone in 2021. 

Cases of treatment sought for alcohol abuse in 2022 were higher than that of cocaine and cannabis combined. 

However, a full 45% completed their treatment and over half were alcohol free when leaving.  

Ireland is ranked eighth out of 30 countries for the proportion of household income spent on alcohol.  Although alcohol has increased in price, it has kept in line with inflation.  

There were 5,527 incidents of drink-driving, and 9,917 incidents of drunkenness recorded on PULSE in 2022.   

HRB chief executive Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll commented that the increase in those choosing not to drink and the decline in consumption per capita is positive. 


However, harmful drinking is reflected in alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths, as well as high numbers being treated for problem alcohol use.   

Recent legislation to address alcohol use includes:

  • Restrictions on advertising, 
  • Separation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and shops, and 
  • Minimum unit price. 

By 2026, Ireland will also have the most comprehensive health warning labels on alcohol globally. 

Gazette Desk
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