Alcohol misuse – can we really afford it?

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety report Social costs of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland 2008/2009 estimated that we are spending approximately £680 million annually addressing alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland, including costs to healthcare, policing, probation and prison services, social services and as a result of work absenteeism. Conversely, alcohol has never been more affordable or available. Indeed a combination of rising disposable income and stable alcohol prices means it is now 65% more affordable to buy alcohol than it was twenty years ago. (1)

Over the past 15 years Northern Ireland has seen a notable increase in the number of people drinking alcohol and, more worryingly, in the number of people drinking in excess of the recommended daily limit. Changes in licensing laws, the effects of the peace process and the rapid growth of the leisure industry have been noted as possible reasons why consumption in Northern Ireland has increased at a much greater pace than the rest of the UK. (2)

Owen O’Neill, PHA Senior Drugs and Alcohol Coordinator, said: “There is a strong body of evidence to show that making alcohol less accessible has the biggest impact in reducing consumption levels and therefore in reducing health and social harms.

“We need to make alcohol less affordable, less visible and less available by restricting pricing and advertising and by reducing or limiting the number of outlets able to sell alcohol in a given area.”

He concluded: “We all have a role to play in tackling this problem. Alcohol is legal, but it is a drug and as such it needs to be used in moderation. At an individual, family and societal level we need to be aware of the true costs of misusing alcohol. We may not be paying much for it at the supermarket or off-licence till, or at the bar counter, but we, as a society, are certainly paying for it down the line – to the extent of almost £700 million per year!”

For more information on alcohol and how it might be affecting your life visit

Notes to the editor

• Alcohol Awareness Week runs from 18–24 October.

• The Public Health Agency takes the lead on the DHSSPS New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs 2006–2011.

• Daily alcohol limits are recommended to avoid the health and social risks of excessive and binge drinking in any one session. These recommended limits are:

Men: It is recommended that men drink no more than three to four units of alcohol a day (i.e. two pints of standard beer) and no more than 21 units over the course of the week.

Women: It is recommended that women drink no more than two to three units of alcohol a day (i.e. a 175ml glass of wine) and no more than 14 units over the course of the week.

Remember, that for each unit you drink over the daily limit, the risk to your health increases. It’s important to spread the units throughout the week – you shouldn’t save up’ your units for the weekend. Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk. Alcohol is usually measured in units. Many bottles of wine, beer and ready-mixed drinks have the units marked on the label. is a PHA website providing information, advice and support on a range of alcohol related subjects.

1. Cheap at twice the price, 2007, Alcohol Concern.
2. Drinking in the UK: an exploration of trends, 2009, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Further information

PHA Press Office, Ormeau Avenue on 028 9031 1611.