Alcohol consumption advice to be re-examined over at-home drinking trends that emerged from pandemic

Weekly low-risk drinking limits may be tightened due to growing concern over the level of home alcohol consumption during the pandemic.

octors and officials behind the HSE’s Alcohol Program are to re-examine guidance on how much people can drink in a week to remain within a safe limit.

As the St Patrick’s week celebrations over the past four days led to scenes of binge drinking, the changing patterns in where people consume alcohol – particularly following the stay-at-home stage of the pandemic – will be reviewed.

The guidelines were last reviewed in 2009 and currently allow for 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 alcohol-free days.

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, an alcohol counselor based in Dublin, said: ”From my own experience, what I found was that the Covid-19 pandemic helped unearth an alcohol problem that was there but not always visible.

“You might have someone pre-pandemic who would go home from work and drink a bottle of wine. When they started to work from home they were bringing forward the time they were having their first drink. Normally they would be in transit at 5pm but now they were at home. It was happening a few hours earlier. It might even (begin) by mid-day or lunch.

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

“Another problem was the stress of Covid-19 was getting in on people.

“Most people who drink badly are drinking at home.”

Dr McGovern said he believes the current low-risk guidelines is not where the problem is.

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

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

“We are drinking too much in this country and we are blasé about it.”

A survey led by Dr Kathryn Allen in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, in December 2020 found that 41pc of patients felt they were drinking more since the start of the pandemic.

Boredom and loneliness were cited as two of the main drivers behind the increase in drinking and there was no socioeconomic difference.

Nearly one third reported drinking more than three times a week and 66pc said they consumed more alcohol than the recommended low-risk limit.

The study in the Irish Medical Journal said 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 his organization welcomed the proposed review in light of the “significant shift to increased and unfettered drinking at home during the pandemic”.

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

“Citizens have a right to accurate information and timely advice about alcohol use and its impact on our health and well-being. “

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