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Our teens drink less but parents fourth heaviest drinkers in OECD


Irish teenagers may be drinking less, but their parents are still among the heaviest drinkers in developed countries

Irish teenagers may be drinking less, but their parents are still among the heaviest drinkers in developed countries.

A new report by the OECD examining hazardous drinking has found that the number of Irish 15-year-olds experimenting with alcohol has dropped.

In 2010, 35pc of 15-year-olds had tried alcohol, compared with 43pc in 2002.

While alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen slightly in recent years, we are still the fourth-largest consumer of alcohol per head of population among 40 countries surveyed by the OECD.

When it comes to heavy drinking we are behind only Estonia, Austria and France.

The Irish consumed an average of 11.6 litres of pure alcohol in 2012 - the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine or 200 litres of beer. This compares with an average across OECD countries of just over nine litres and a world average of just over six litres.

Preliminary estimates from the Revenue Commissioners indicate that last year saw a further slight fall to 11 litres per capita. However, we are still markedly ahead of other countries when it comes to alcohol use.

The report, 'Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use' which was published yesterday, also found there was a marked difference between men and women when it came to problem drinking. While men who were less educated and with a low socio-economic status were more likely to engage in "risky drinking", the opposite was true when it came to women. Women who were better educated and with a higher socio-economic status were more likely to indulge in heavy drinking.

In the case of Ireland, such women were twice as likely to be problem drinkers than their less-educated counterparts.

While different countries adopt different definitions of what constitutes 'hazardous' drinking, in Ireland it is defined as 17 drinks a week for a man and 11 drinks a week for a woman.

One of the report's authors, health policy analyst Marion Devaux, said greater female labour force participation and greater professional equality have exposed more women to the same work environments and social pressures to drink as men.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said Ireland has a "serious problem" with both drinking too much and binging on alcohol.

"The damaging dominance of a harmful drinking pattern remains very high by European standards and is a major public health concern," he told the Seanad.

He said the Government plans to have the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill brought before the Oireachtas in the autumn to bring in measures including minimum unit pricing to eliminate very cheap alcohol from stores.

He said they were examining research and were in discussions on what a minimum unit price might be.

Commenting on the report, Conor Cullen, head of advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland, said while the reduction in the number of Irish teenagers drinking was welcome, 35pc was still too high and young people were modelling their drinking on the actions of the adults.

"The reported 5pc decrease in the number of 15-year-olds who had experienced alcohol between 2002 and 2010 is a welcome one, though we should be careful not to celebrate the fact that almost four in 10 children in this country have consumed alcohol by the time they reach 15.

"There is a consistent trend for drunkenness among young Irish people, a trend that sets them apart from the majority of their European counterparts," he added.

Irish Independent