Alcohol consumption

Drinking advice needs re-examination over home drinking trends that have emerged from the pandemic

Weekly limits on low-risk alcohol consumption could be tightened due to growing concerns about the level of alcohol consumption at home during the pandemic.

Actors and officials in the HSE’s alcohol program need to re-examine guidelines on how much people can drink in a week to stay within a safe limit.

As St. Patrick’s Week celebrations over the past four days have led to binge drinking scenes, changing drinking patterns – particularly after the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic – will be examined.

The guidelines were last revised in 2009 and currently allow a weekly maximum of 17 standard drinks for men (170g of pure alcohol) and 11 for women (110g of pure alcohol). This must also include two days without alcohol.

A standard drink here is a pub measure of spirits, a small glass of wine, a half pint of beer or an alcopop.

Dr Garrett McGovern, a Dublin-based alcohol counselor, said: “In my own experience, what I’ve found is that the Covid-19 pandemic has helped expose a problem of alcohol that was there but not always visible.

“You could have someone before the pandemic who would come home from work and drink a bottle of wine. When they first started working from home, they would bring forward the time they had their first drink. Normally they would be in transit at 5 p.m., but now they were home. It was a few hours earlier. It could even (start) at noon or lunch.

“They were going from one bottle of wine to two and going through it earlier.

“Another problem was that the stress of Covid-19 was taking over people.

“Most people who drink badly drink at home.”

Dr McGovern said he believed the current low-risk guidelines were not the problem.

“If you drink sensibly, alcohol is not something you need to be afraid of,” he added.

“It’s not uncommon for me to see people drinking seven to eight times the limits.

“We drink too much in this country and are jaded by it.”

A survey conducted by Dr Kathryn Allen at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital in December 2020 found that 41% of patients felt they had been drinking more since the start of the pandemic.

Boredom and loneliness were cited as two of the main drivers of increased alcohol consumption and there was no socioeconomic difference.

Almost a third said they drank more than three times a week, and 66% said they had consumed more alcohol than the recommended low-risk limit.

The study published in the Irish Medical Journal says healthcare providers should be aware of the potential increase in new diagnoses of alcohol use disorder and alcohol-related liver disease.

Eunan McKinney of Alcohol Action Ireland said her organization welcomed the proposed revision in light of the “significant shift towards increased and unfettered consumption at home during the pandemic”.

He pointed to “recent scientific evidence on risk, particularly with cardiovascular issues including coronary heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke as well as attributable cancers.

“Citizens have the right to be informed timely information and advice on alcohol consumption and its impact on our health and well-being.