The youth are the future. When young people grow up to be healthy and thriving adults, they contribute to society. This means more development and a better life for everyone.
But the products and practices of the alcohol industry are standing in the way of young people’s healthy development in Ireland. A new report by Ireland’s Health Research Board (HRB) has found that while youth are now staying alcohol-free for longer, those who do use alcohol are doing so heavily.
The report analyzed alcohol and other drug use of young people between the ages of 15 to 24 years in Ireland. Data was gathered from surveys and reports and from health and law enforcement services.
The report found:
- The average age of youth first using alcohol has increased from 15.6 years in 2002 to 16.6 years in 2019.
- The number of young people abstaining from alcohol has also increased from 11% in 2002 to 26% in 2019.
While these are positive trends, not all news is good.
- One in three of the youth surveyed (38%) had an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
- Ireland ranked 7th among 35 European countries for alcohol intoxication.
- In 2021, almost one-in-three males and one-in-four females aged 15-24 years reported exceeding Iow-risk alcohol use guidelines on a single occasion at least once per year.
- The current low-risk alcohol use guidelines stipulate less than 11 standard units (110g pure alcohol) for women, and less than 17 standard units (170g pure alcohol) for men, with at least two alcohol-free days.
Apart from alcohol use, other drug use has also increased among young people.
- One in five (20%) young people reported using an illegal drug in the last year.
- Over a quarter (27%) said they had used illegal drugs at some point in their lifetime.
- Young boys were more likely to have used illegal drugs than young girls.
- Cannabis is the most commonly used other drug among Irish youth.
- Cocaine use among young people in Ireland increased from 3.0% in 2014–15 to 4.4% in 2019-2020.
- Cocaine use is rising among young girls (0.8% in 2014–15 to 4.5% in 2019–20) while it is decreasing among young boys (5.1% in 2014–15 to 4.2% in 2019–20).
- More than two in five third-level students who use drugs reported using two or more substances at the same time.
Heavy burden on Irish youth due to alcohol and other drugs
The toll from this increased alcohol and other drug use is severe among Irish youth.
- Alcohol-related hospitalizations increased by 12% between 2015 and 2018.
- Hospitalizations due to other drug use increased by 26%.
- The most common factors for young people being hospitalized for substance use was the use of alcohol followed by cannabis and then cocaine.
- In 2017, alcohol and/or other drug poisoning took the lives of 17 young people.
- Additionally, 40 young people who died due to traumatic events had a history of alcohol dependency and/ or other drug use, and/or had alcohol implicated in their cause of death.
- Almost half of the young driver deaths with a toxicology report available had a positive toxicology for alcohol.
Apart from the impact on physical health, alcohol and other drugs are leading to increased poor mental health among young people in Ireland.
- Young adults with alcohol dependence were more likely to have severe anxiety.
- Youth who used cannabis were six times more likely to report mental health problems than those who did not use the drug.
- Over one in four young people who were hospitalized due to self-harm had used alcohol either before or during the self-harm act.
- Almost three in four young people who died by suicide had a history of alcohol and/or other drug use problems.
Irish youth who had alcohol and/ or other drug use problems also had more run-ins with the criminal justice system.
- 86% of young people referred to Probation Services reported alcohol and/or other drug use problems.
- 30% of drug-driving arrests were among those aged 18-24 years, most commonly among young males.
The need for improved prevention, treatment, and policies
The report identifies the role that the alcohol industry plays in fueling alcohol problems among Irish youth. The report identifies a number of risk factors for alcohol use problems:
- Parental provision of alcohol.
- Parental substance use.
- Early initiation of alcohol use.
- Being exposed to alcohol marketing is linked with early alcohol initiation, binge alcohol use and alcohol intoxication.
The HRB report synthesizes the challenges and risk factors for alcohol and other drug use in Ireland, the impact it has on mental health, and highlights the need for prevention, and improved policies to reduce risks and treatment.
The purpose of the report is to help increase support for young people and to address their alcohol and other drug problems at all levels, from family to the policy level.
By monitoring trends over time, the HRB can help inform effective responses that parents, practitioners, educators, and policymakers can take to support the health and wellbeing of young people,” said Dr. Mairéad O’Driscoll, Chief Executive, Health Research Board as per thejournal.ie.
This will help strengthen the prevention of drug and alcohol use among children and young people, which is a priority of the National Drug Strategy.”Dr. Mairéad O’Driscoll, Chief Executive, Health Research Board
Lack of treatment services for alcohol use problems
Meanwhile, a different report published by Alcohol Action Ireland found glaring gaps in treatment available for alcohol use problems.
According to Alcohol Action Ireland, 14.8% of the population in Ireland, or 578,000 people have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and 90,000 of these have a severe problem.
However, only 3,319 of the people affected by AUD received the treatment they needed in 2020.
Women who have alcohol and other drug use problems are especially at risk since they face higher stigma for this issue than men, says Professor Jo-Hanna Ivers, Assistant Professor in Addiction at the School of Medicine, Trinity College who was the author of the study. This is due to social norms for women as nurturers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and caregivers. The fear of stigma stops many women from accessing the treatment and care that they need for alcohol or other substance use problem.
It is evident that treatment services for alcohol need more resources and better funding. Only with better resources can Ireland prevent and reduce the alcohol and other drug issues that are currently burdening people, their communities, and overall society.
In order to effectively treat people for alcohol use problems, we need more appropriate funding support and resources to build integrated care pathways to meet the often complex needs of the people presenting and their families,” said Amy Roche, chief executive of Finglas Addiction Support Team, as per Irish Examiner.Amy Roche, chief executive, Finglas Addiction Support Team
independent.ie: “Treatment for cocaine use by young Irish people up 171pc in a decade“
Irish Examiner: “‘Significant gap’ between need for alcohol treatment and services available“
the journal.ie: “Report finds one in three young drinkers in Ireland have an alcohol use disorder“