Over half of Irish population drink in 'high-risk' manner

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More than half of the Irish population drinks in a high-risk manner, according to Alcohol Action Ireland.

The organisation is holding a major conference in Dublin today to examine our harmful relationship with drinking.

Entitled 'Facing ‘The Fear’: Alcohol and Mental Health in Ireland', the conference is taking place at the Royal College of Physicians on Kildare St.

The conference has been opened by Minister Alex White, who recently brought forward a range of measures to deal with alcohol misuse and its related harms, which will be included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Chief Executive Suzanne Costello says many people are drinking their way into depression and suicide - but have spent years ignoring it.

"In the last couple of years we've seen a great many steps forward in terms of people being more open about their depression, anxiety, the stresses and strains that people are under," Ms Costello said..

"That's a very positive thing in helping people come forward and get help."

However, she said that one of the big factors affecting mental health - and more tragically, a big factor in suicide and self-harm in Ireland - is alcohol misuse.

"That's one of the factors the expert speakers today will highlight," she added.

Ms Costello also said that the Government is taking too long to tackle the below-cost sale of alcohol.

"(Reform) really hasn't happened quickly enough," she said.

"Some people regard these measures...as being too much too soon - but in fact in our view they would be too little too late".

"It is important there's a momentum and an urgency around these measures; the government have put them on a 12 to 18 month time frame...and it's very important that we keep to that time table" she added.

Professor Ella Arensman, Director of Research with the National Suicide Research Foundation, will present new research findings on the role of alcohol as a serious risk factor in self-harm and suicide.

“Alcohol contributes to increasing rates of self-harm and it also causes increases of self-harm at specific times in the year, such as a peak of self-harm among women in July and August. This peak would not exist if alcohol were not involved,” said Prof Arensman.

Prof Arensman will also present research which found that, among men aged 40 years and older who died by suicide, alcohol abuse was one of the strongest risk factors, present in over 75% of cases, in combination with depression and physical illness.

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