Wednesday 13 December 2017

Drink and us - how the Irish really are a nation of bingers

High prices don’t deter us from knocking back 937 glasses of wine or 458 pints of beer a year

Aideen Sheehan

Aideen Sheehan

So what exactly is the story with the Irish and drink?

In a week when the Government announced plans to push up the price of a can of beer up to €2.20 and a bottle of wine to nearly €9 in a bid to curb our excesses, we looked around Europe to see how drinking habits and prices compare.

The Irish love of a session is legendary and pubs are still cited as our number one tourist attraction, so you'd probably expect us to put away more booze than our more sober-seeming neighbours.

Not so however, as we're actually middle of the table when it comes to alcohol consumption.

On average every man, woman and child over 15 years of age drinks 11.9 litres of pure alcohol a year - which equates to a whopping 937 glasses of wine or 468 pints of beer.

But though that's well above the European average of 10.9 litres, it isn't the highest by a long shot.

That dubious record goes to the Lithuanians who get through a massive 15.4 litres each a year according to the World Health Organisation's Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.

That's possibly encouraged by the fact prices there are significantly lower than our own, and six pc below the EU norm.

In fact of the top five heavy-drinking nations in Europe - Lithuania, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal and Poland- all have alcohol prices that are lower than the EU average which would seem to back up the Government's case for saving us from ourselves by pricing drink much higher than any of our favourite holiday hotspots.

The problem is they already do that with excise and VAT rates that have made alcohol in Ireland the third most expensive in the European Union, or a massive 62pc more than average according to Eurostat figures.

If you buy an €8 bottle of wine in Ireland, a puny 11 cents of that is the cost of the liquid itself - whereas the taxman will be knocking back a massive €4.69 of your money in excise and VAT, and the retailer, distributor and others along the chain will share out the other €3.20.

Some countries have gone even further in imposing massive state taxes on booze - Norway has almost unbelievable drink prices with €10 for a pint the rule rather than the exception - and overall alcohol prices there are a staggering 188pc above the norm in Europe.

That does appear to deter people from drinking too much as they consume an average of 7.7 litres a head - or 303 pints a year each - but the link between cost and consumption isn't crystal-clear.

Take the Italians for example who drink less than everyone else in Europe - the equivalent of just 527 glasses of wine a year - even though it can be bought for very little.

Or Germany where drink is the half the price it is in Ireland, but they still drink slightly less than us.

And if you look at binge drinking Ireland isn't as middle-of-the-road as its overall consumption figures suggest however.

In fact drinking to excess is the norm here as almost four-in-10 people had engaged in what WHO describes as "heavy episodic drinking" in the last month of over six units of alcohol at a sitting.

And if you exclude the 20pc of us who don't drink at all, a whopping six-out-of-10 Irishmen and one-in-three women had binged on alcohol in the last few weeks.

Austria is the only country in the 22 we surveyed which had a marginally higher rate of binge drinking, whereas only 7.5pc of Italians and 7.9pc of Dutch had overindulged recently.

Of course whenever these types of figures are aired, there are sneers of "six drinks, call that a binge" but obviously having a high cultural acceptance of excessive drinking doesn't mean it's not a problem.

Alcohol Action Ireland points out that Irish drink consumption has fallen back in the last two years following a series of excise hikes such as an extra 50c on a bottle of wine - and Health Minister Leo Varadkar is gambling on minimum pricing as a way of curbing our excess further.

It's impossible to know which way this will go as an improving economy will also mean people have more money to spend on drink.

While a widening price gap could reignite the stampede across the border to stock up on cheaper booze.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News