Battle with booze heightens in Covid, Cork expert calls for minimum unit pricing

New figures show alcohol consumption has not fallen in line with pub closures in Ireland. John Bohane find out why Irish people are still battling alcohol issues in lockdown
Battle with booze heightens in Covid, Cork expert calls for minimum unit pricing

New figures show alcohol consumption has not fallen in line with pub closures in Ireland.

ALCOHOL Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has expressed its disappointment with the data released by Revenue which indicates that Ireland’s alcohol consumption during the pandemic decreased by a little over 6% to 10.07 litres per capita.

The national organisation had hoped with most licensed premises closed for the vast majority of the year the decrease would have been more significant.

Commenting on the figures, their head of communications and advocacy Eunan McKinney said: “The data highlights the extraordinary shift that has taken place among Ireland’s drinking population and the ocean of alcohol that has poured into the nation’s homes. From the beginning of the Covid crisis, we have been urging the Government to act on this consequence,” he said.

Mr McKinney said the introduction of minimum unit pricing on alcoholic products is urgently required. “The introduction of minimum unit pricing on alcohol products, which primarily applies to the off-licence trade who have experienced a profit boom, would act as some curb on what undoubtedly will be the source of many problems to come. A temporary lifestyle may now be a permanent habit and 200,000 children every day have to navigate the chaos of parental problem alcohol use.”

David Lane co-ordinator of the Southern Regional Drug and Alcohol Taskforce agrees with Mr McKinney’s call for the introduction of minimum unit pricing in the near future.

“I am not surprised by the report. The consumption rates in this country are quite high. The biggest thing that needs to happen in terms of making an impact on the misuse of alcohol in this country is the implementation of the public health alcohol act. Certain pieces of this act have still to be enacted and the long finger has been put on some key measures.

“We need minimum unit pricing to be implemented immediately. It was supposed to be enacted but it has been put off for another while, unfortunately. We need to look at the reduction in the consumption of alcohol. We will then see a big difference. Some supermarkets have implemented structural separation which is good progress. This effort is appreciated and will make a difference,” he said.

Mr Lane said he is concerned about Drinkaware the national charity that is working to reduce alcohol misuse in Ireland, providing programmes that are making no impact.

“We are concerned about the efforts of Drinkaware to go into school settings and provide ‘education programmes’ that will make no difference. The industry itself wants to sell as much as possible and make the biggest profits. They cannot be part of the response in terms of educating people in terms of responsible use. It doesn’t work and it never will work. We need to do things that will work and make a difference.”

The clinical director of rehabilitation centre Tabor Lodge Mick Devine said that the stresses associated with the global pandemic are ensuring that people are turning to drink more frequently as they are ‘carrying so much fear and uncertainty’.

“It is very sad. We are seeing people of all ages. I had a call from a person in the entertainment industry and he was looking at his calendar and seeing all his scheduled shows all postponed. He also had issues with anxiety and panic. 

"A number of factors coming together can tip something over the edge. This causes people to use alcohol more than they normally would. All of a sudden they can be on a slippery slope and it can lead to all sorts of situations. These are the people who are asking us for help,” he said.

The increased number of people drinking at home also creates a lot of issues and represents a growing concern said Mr Devine.

“The barman measures out the quantities more carefully than people at home and if you have had one too many they will politely decline your request. Home drinking is potentially very dangerous especially when you add in such factors as the big supermarkets using alcohol as a loss leader. The low cost of alcohol encourages people to spend their money on it. All of a sudden there is a quantity of alcohol in the house and it is hard to ignore it. There are no opening or closing times in the house. I’m not surprised by the findings at all. Minimum unit pricing is urgently required.”

Mr Devine said that there has been a growing demand for their services since the start of this year with people struggling to cope with the ongoing restrictions and sadness the constant lockdowns are bringing.

“Since January and February, I have noticed a big spike unfortunately and Covid is the common denominator. It is coming into the conversation when they discuss the set of circumstances that are leading them to seek help. Covid will have consequences for a long time to come, unfortunately. It is a very stressful time for people and this leads to temptations and people leaning on alcohol.

“It is not just alcohol alone. There is a whole personal story and situation. There might be mental health challenges that the person is trying to cope with. There might be other situations in their family life that have been strained. There might be accommodation or employment issues. It is rarely a simple case. It is generally a complexity of issues that need to be addressed,” he added.

The clinical director is anticipating a growing surge in requests over the coming months. Mr Devine said their programmes are specifically tailored to help people overcome their addictions.

“There is going to be a big demand for treatment. If this is the case, there is a need for the Government to ensure that it is accessible and that waiting lists are not too long. We are always here to listen and help. It might lead to an assessment procedure and we guide people about what possible steps they can take including our residential programmes.

“We can put a care plan in place to help people focus on what the problem is and the possible solutions. We can also provide help and advice for concerned family members who are worried about a developing situation. We can help people by talking about the situation and get the ball rolling. We can give advice and they can take it on board,” he added.

For more information about the Tabor Group and its services, go to www.taborgroup.ie.

To access help for addiction from the Tabor Group, phone 021 488 7110 or email info@taborgroup.ie.

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