Psychiatrist calls for minimum age for alcohol to be raised after rise in contacts to helpline

A consultant psychiatrist is calling for the minimum age for alcohol to be raised to 21 to tackle addiction issues.

It comes after new figures show the number of calls and emails to the HSE’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline increased by more than 29% last year.

According to details released under the Freedom of Information Act, there were more than 5,500 contacts in 2019.

The helpline is a free and confidential listening and email service for people with concerns about drug or alcohol use.

The level of use of the service has increased sharply in recent years.

In 2018, there were 4,300 contacts, rising to 5,557 last year. In 2019, 39% of the calls and emails were related to alcohol.

Patricia Casey, a consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital, is calling for new legislation to tackle the problem.

Dr Casey said: "The alcohol misuse could be an age thing, I mean if the Government was of a mind to, they could do what the Americans do and have an age of consent for alcohol of 21.

"I think it should certainly be experimented with given the serious consequences of alcohol - suicide, depressive disorders and financial problems, crime - all of those."

Eunan McKinney, from Alcohol Action Ireland, is not surprised by the statistics.

Mr McKinney said: "I think that the numbers indicate probably the level of activity that has been coming from the HSE alcohol programme throughout 2017 into 2018 and 2019 whereby they have engaged in a more proactive campaign to try and demonstrate some of the preventative measures which are required around alcohol."

In the five years between 2014 and 2019, there was a five-fold increase in the number of contacts about alcohol and cocaine.

During the same period, contacts about cannabis rose by 62%.

The number of calls and emails about prescription tablets, such as benzos and anti-depressants, is almost three times higher than in 2014.

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