News Health

Monday 1 September 2014

How we delude ourselves on our own drinking habits

Harmful attitude towards alcohol is laid bare

Eilish O'Regan

Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30

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Nearly one in three have suffered some kind of personal injury or harm due to their own drinking (picture posed)
Nearly one in three have suffered some kind of personal injury or harm due to their own drinking (picture posed)
Our drinking habits
Nearly one in three have suffered some kind of personal injury or harm due to their own drinking (picture posed)
Nearly one in three have suffered some kind of personal injury or harm due to their own drinking (picture posed)

WE ARE deluding ourselves into believing we are "moderate" to "light" drinkers when we are downing enough to be classed as "bingers", a worrying report has revealed.

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Thousands of anonymous drink diaries, compiled for the first time, show the huge mismatch between the amount of alcohol people say they are consuming and what they are actually knocking back.

The findings suggest that while there are 150,000 alcoholics in the country, another 1.35 million, most of whom believe their habit is not causing any trouble, are problem drinkers. They are bingeing on six or more standard drinks at a time on a typical session.

And they point to a growing trend of people drinking at home. A significant 43pc of alcohol is now consumed away from the pub.

If the survey of 6,000 was relied on alone, it would mean we drank 4.2 litres per person last year – but the Revenue Commissioners, which collects taxes on alcohol, reveal it is nearer 10.6 litres.

Truth

The uncomfortable truth about our ongoing national battle with the booze is revealed in a report by the Health Research Board, which analysed the diaries and found we are drastically underestimating our alcohol intake.

It finds that most people drink the equivalent to three or more pints of beer, six or more pub measures of spirits or most of a bottle of wine at a time.

When asked to classify their own drinking behaviour, just 2.1pc admitted they were heavy drinkers, another 39.6pc described themselves as light tipplers and 58.3pc put themselves in the moderate category.

However, when their own description was compared with their diary, one in five light drinkers and half of moderate drinkers turned out to be bingers on a typical session "without realising it".

It showed that harmful and dependent drinking was highest among 18-24 year old age group and one in five drinkers engaged in binge drinking at least once a week. Among this age group, 28pc of men and 22pc of women had their weekly limit in just one session.

Despite the recession, we are spending more than €50.6m week on alcohol, with 8.2pc of people devoting €75 or more a week to alcohol.

Of the 3,276 people surveyed who work or study, as many as 1,083 days at the office were lost.

A majority of over 25s like to drink although pubs, bars and nightclubs are favoured by most young people.

Nearly one in three have suffered some kind of personal injury or harm due to their own drinking and men are one and a half times more likely than women to experience this potentially serious outcome.

Dr Jean Long, co-author of the report, said it was clear that it was now considered normal behaviour to consume high quantities in a single session. She said people didn't realise they were drinking in a harmful way and just one in five of the population did not drink at all.

Prof Frank Murray of the Royal College of Physicians expressed disappointment at the delay in implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which would bring in minimum pricing.

"This Bill has the potential to save lives and to drive changes in Irish attitudes.

"It is the best way we can begin to show the world that we are attempting to shake off the drunken Irish label once and for all," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it hoped to publish a "general scheme of the Bill shortly".

A health impact assessment in conjunction with Northern Ireland is looking at the impact of different minimum prices on a range of areas and should be finalised in the coming weeks.

How much are you drinking? Keep a drinks diary for a month to find out.

(1) What are my average units per day and the total for the week?

(2) How many drinks did I consume at a time?

(3) How much time did I spend recovering from its effects?

(4) Is it affecting my home life or work?

(5) Is drinking harming my health?

* The World Health Organisation defines anything above 60g of pure alcohol in one sitting to be a binge.

* 60g would equate to three pints, 600mls of wine (most of the bottle) or six pub measures of spirits.

* Drinking more than three pints, 600 mls of wine or six pub measures of spirits is binge drinking.

* In Ireland one standard drink is 10g of pure alcohol- around half a pint of beer.

Irish Independent

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