One person a day dying from effects of drinking
MORE than 300 people a year are dying from alcohol consumption following long-term health problems or poisoning brought on by binge drinking.
New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that 1,600 people died between 2007 and 2011, and that the number of fatalities among women is rising.
And the figures show wide discrepancies in death rates in each county, with men up to seven times more likely to die in Cork city compared with Kilkenny, which has the lowest rate.
For women, the highest rate is in Sligo, and the lowest in North Tipperary.
The CSO figures, which are based on coroners' reports where the underlying cause of death was recorded as alcohol, show the number of deaths among women is rising.
In 2007, there were 103 fatalities. In 2011, the rate rose to 113.
The overall numbers have remained static, with the highest number of deaths (341) occurring in 2010, and the lowest in 2009 when 287 people lost their lives.
But experts warned that the true number of alcohol-related deaths could be far higher.
Alcohol was often associated with road traffic collisions or suicides, while a person could die from liver disease, caused by alcohol, but not recorded as such.
Professor Denis Cusack from UCD, who is also the Kildare county coroner, said the CSO data only formed part of the picture, and that coroners and researchers in Ireland and other countries were reviewing how alcohol was recorded on death certificates.
"I think it's under-collated," he said. "I think the information is there, it's just about how to gather it. "I would be very careful putting an interpretation on death rates per 100,000 until we have clarified how deaths are recorded and until we have a standard approach.
"If somebody takes their life from suicide, and alcohol is a factor, whether it's recorded directly as a cause of death is difficult to know. What about people dying of violence?
"A lot of violent homicides are alcohol or drug-related, but you probably won't find that alcohol is put down as a factor.
"Other countries have the same problem – where and to what degree is alcohol recorded as a factor? There may be times in terms of violence, suicide, road traffic and serious health problems, where the end result is the severe effect on an organ, but is it caused by alcohol?"
The figures also show the national average death rate per 100,000 population is 48 for men, and 23 for women.
Prof Cusack said that ingesting large quantities of alcohol, such as six or seven pints, could lead to poisoning and death.
The drink-driving limit is 50mg, which is equivalent to two units or less than a pint, and more than 200-250mg could cause the drinker to stop breathing, enter a coma or die.
"I've signed certificates for people and I don't know how they were able to stand, much less drive. If somebody goes into the 250-300, you're getting into dangerous territory.
"People don't realise a very high level of alcohol or a very high level reached quickly affects the part of the brain which keeps you breathing. You're also seeing alcohol in combination with other drugs like cannabis or benzodiazapam.
"If you put them all together, as they're all depressives, they can cause death. We're seeing people who have taken their own lives where alcohol is a factor."