'SADLY alcohol takes a huge toll in Ireland. We have been in denial about this for a long time.' That's the opinion of Dr Declan Bedford, public health specialist with the HSE.
Recent reports show that Irish people are drinking twice as much now as they did 50 years ago. On average, Irish people over the age of 15 drink almost 12 litres of pure alcohol per year – that's the equivalent of 44 bottles of vodka, 470 pints or 124 bottles of wine. Over half of all Irish drinkers have a harmful pattern of drinking and more than half a million children are living with adults who regularly engage in hazardous drinking.
More people are seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, with a 40 per cent increase in six years.
It's estimated that this drinking cost the exchequer €3.7 billion in 2007. But it's not just the cost to taxpayer which is a concern. Alcohol related problems bring real pain to families through fatal traffic accidents, domestic violence and broken marriages, suicides, and ill-health.
The statistics paint a bleak picture. Every night 2,000 beds in our hospitals are occupied by someone with alcohol related problems or illness. Up to 30% of the emergency department costs are alcoholrelated, €1.2billion of tax-payers' money is spent on dealing with alcohol-related crime.
'The situation is very very bad,' says Dr Bedford. 'There are hundreds and hundreds of heartbreaking stories which people never hear about. There's many a young man has taken his life as a result of alcohol after going for a night out.
'The more a population drinks, the more harm we do to ourselves,' he continues. 'In Ireland, we drink a lot, we like to binge drink.'
This leads to all sorts of problems. Drinking makes people more likely to have an accident, to get involved in a fight, to engage in domestic violence.'
The toll which this takes on families is enormous. 'A third of people going for marriage counselling are doing so because of alcohol related problems,' says Dr Bedford. 'One in eleven children in Ireland say alcohol use has a negative impact on their lives. 'That's a 100,000 children whose lives are affected by their parents drinking.'
Underage drinking is also a huge concern. In a recent survey over half of young people reported being drunk at least once by the age of 16, with 44% of girls and 42% of boys aged 15-16 saying they had been binge-drinking in the previous month.
'Children are seeing alcohol as an everyday item, it's in their homes, the supermarket and the local filling station.'