Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, and Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, today highlighted advice and supports for people with alcohol related problems during COVID-19.
COVID-19 poses additional risks to people with alcohol related problems. It is known that alcohol weakens the immune system and reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases. Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
There is evidence from the CSO that a fifth of all adults who drink are consuming more alcohol during the shutdown period associated with COVID-19, while a smaller percentage report a decrease.
The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are providing enhanced advice and supports for people dependent on alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include information and services on the AskAboutAlcohol website and social media posts. They have also published a COVID-19 poster with key messages for reducing the harms associated with alcohol and for supporting recovery.
Minister Harris said:
"We know this pandemic has created and caused problems for many of us. But we also know the problems facing those with alcohol dependency are compounded by the public health restrictions we have had to put in place. We must do everything we can to reach those who need us most.
"It is important we do not promote involuntary detoxes but that we help and guide people. There are increased risks related to home drinking, due to a combination of cheaper alcohol and the stress associated with COVID-19. This is especially the case where people drink more than the recommended low risk guidance. Use of other substances, including drugs and tobacco, can add to the risks of health and other harms."
As well as adhering to physical distancing and other guidelines incuding washing hands and practising good respiratory hygiene, there are additional public health messages for people who drink:
do not stockpile alcohol
have a few alcohol-free days per week
do not to mix alcohol with drugs or other medicines
delay drinking until children have gone to bed
Minister of State Catherine Byrne said:
"People with alcohol-related problems are facing greater challenges during this difficult time. They may experience stigma and discrimination, and many are struggling with their mental health. We need to reach out and offer support, not judgement.
"I would strongly encourage anyone experiencing alcohol related problems to contact drug and alcohol services, which continue to operate during COVID-19. Alternatively, people can contact the national drug and alcohol helpline for advice."
Minister Byrne continued:
"If people are thinking about cutting down or stopping alcohol, they should contact their GP for advice, so that they can cut back safely and avoid withdrawal symptoms. For those already in recovery, they should stay in touch with their personal and trusted recovery networks. Several support groups like AA, SMART Recovery and Life Ring continue to be available online."
Aisling Sheehan, National Lead, HSE Alcohol and Mental Health and Wellbeing Programmes, commented:
"People with alcohol related problems have particular needs and risks during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is important that people know that there are services and supports available to them, such as the HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459. There are lots of information and advice available on the AskAboutAlcohol website, including tools to help people assess their drinking and the impact it is having on them. Finally, a list of alcohol counselling and treatment services is available on www.drugs.ie."
Notes to the Editor:
The HSE website www.AskAboutAlcohol.ie
provides information, advice and tools to support people in keeping track of their alcohol intake and the impact it is having.
The poster on reducing harm for people with alcohol related problems is available here.
Contact details for alcohol counselling and treatment services are available on www.drugs.ie.
A recent CSO survey on the social impact of COVID-19 found that, among the 80% of the adult population that drink, 22.2% reported an increase in consumption of alcohol since the introduction of the COVID-19 restrictions, 17.2% reported a decrease, and 60.6% said there was no change.
People were more likely to report an increase in consumption of alcohol if they were younger, unemployed prior to and since COVID-19, living in urban areas, feeling depressed or lonely, or very concerned about household stress due to confinement.
The recommended low risk guidance is no more than 17 standard drinks per week for men and 11 standard drinks per week for women, which is 2-3 drinks on average per day for men and 1-2 drinks per day for women, with 2-3 alcohol free days.
The Health Research Board reported 7,464 cases of treatment for problem alcohol use in 2018. It is estimated that alcohol was responsible for 16% of all poisoning deaths in 2017.
There are over 17,000 alcohol-related admissions and discharges from acute hospitals in Ireland every year, with 17,917 alcohol-related discharges reported in 2015. This does not account for the significant number of patients presenting to Emergency Departments not requiring admission or leaving before being assessed. Source: www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27743.
Alcohol is responsible for 88 deaths every month in Ireland. That’s over 1,000 deaths per year. One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol. Source: www.drugsandalcohol.ie/deaths-data.
Between 2001 and 2010, of the 24,995 cases of breast cancer, 3,058 (12.2%) were attributable to alcohol. Of the 6,601 women who died of breast cancer, 695 (10.5%) cases were attributable to alcohol. Source: www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25697.
Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. Alcohol is also involved in over a third of cases of deliberate self-harm. Source: National Registry of Deliberate Self-Harm.
Individuals with a diagnosis of heavy use or a dependence on alcohol or drugs are almost six times more likely to report a lifetime suicide attempt than those without a substance use disorder. Source: National Office for Suicide Prevention, 2014.
Based on the figures in the Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey conducted in 2013, Ireland has more than 150,000 dependent drinkers and more than a 1.35 million are harmful drinkers. Thirty percent of people interviewed say that they experienced some form of harm as a result of their own drinking. Source: www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22138.
An analysis of calls and emails to the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline between 1 March to 21 April, 37% related to alcohol; more than three quarters of these contacts referred to alcohol only, and the remaining referred to alcohol and other substances.