The substantial impact that heavy drinking has on family, friends, colleagues and strangers, as well as the financial burden, has been highlighted in a landmark study published this month. The untold story: harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking [1] states that children are most negatively affected – especially in low-income families – experiencing verbal abuse and witnessing serious violence in their homes.

The report published by the HSE concludes: “preventing and reducing harm to others is an urgent public health goal – equally as important as preventing and reducing harm to the drinker”. It outlines how drinking can impact on a range of relationships but does not estimate the intangible costs (fear, pain, suffering and lost quality of life) that it has on others.

Among respondents who were in paid employment, one in seven workers (14%) reported work-related problems due to colleagues’ drinking. The specific problems most often mentioned were reduced productivity and having to cover for co-workers due to their drinking.

One in every two people (51%) reported experiencing harm due to strangers’ drinking in the past 12 months, including sleep disturbances (being kept awake at night) and perceived threats to personal safety (feeling unsafe and/or harassed on the streets). Two in five people (44%) reported experiencing one or more negative consequences due to the drinking of known drinkers, including feeling stressed, insulted, harassed and threatened.

The report’s total estimate of €863 million represents costs to the individual and society. The largest element of the cost of harm to others (53%) is the cost of caring for the known heavy drinker. The second most significant cost is out-of-pocket expenses, such as damage to property and ruined clothing or other possessions. The cost of seeking help from law enforcement and health services accounts for €127 million of the total, while workplace costs are estimated at €123 million.

The problems from alcohol misuse have up till now focussed on the harms suffered by the drinker. This report investigates the burden imposed directly on others. The fact that three in every five people (61%) reported knowing a heavy drinker suggests that the risk of harm from others’ drinking is widespread in Irish society.

Alcohol Action Ireland said the report offered the most comprehensive view of the scale of alcohol harm.

“For too long the harms experienced has been passively disregarded; this report demonstrates not only the tangible impacts on the many but also the significant psychological impacts felt today and harboured for the future”, the group’s spokesman Eunan McKinney said.

[1] http://www.askaboutalcohol.ie/helpful-resources/research-reports/the-untold-story-harms-experienced-in-the-irish-population-due-to-others-drinking.pdf

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