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Ireland: Liver Disease deaths in young people reveal crisis

Source: Alcohol Action Ireland

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has said new figures which show that alcoholic liver disease deaths are on the rise among young drinkers is a wake-up call to the health crisis being caused by our high drinking rates.

The charity was responding to the first ever national report on alcohol-related deaths which showed a general rise in mortality over a five year period from 2004-2008. Alcoholic liver disease made up almost one in six of the 4,332 alcohol-related deaths.

Alcohol Action Ireland Director Fiona Ryan said: “The Health Research Board is to be congratulated on publishing these figures. While every death from alcohol-related causes is a tragedy for the individual and their family, the trend around alcoholic liver disease is particularly worrying.

Alcoholic liver disease has traditionally been associated with older drinkers but this report found that almost one third of the deaths from medical causes in the 25 to 34 year age group was the result of alcoholic liver disease. In fact, this age group had the highest rate of deaths from the disease.”

A recent study found that the rate of hospital discharges for alcoholic liver disease in the 15-34 year age group increased by 247% between 1995 and 2007 in Ireland. This period coincided with record levels of alcohol consumption.

Ms Ryan said: “These figures are alarming: alcoholic liver disease is an early warning sign of overall levels of alcohol problems in a population. The fact that the disease is being reported in people at such a young age points to serious alcohol problems occurring even earlier in a person’s life. We know that age of first drinking has dropped from 16 to 14 over a ten year period.

“This report should generate a sense of crisis. What ought to compound the crisis is that the majority of deaths in this report are of people who had a history of alcohol dependency. It does not include the deaths of people with a history of harmful alcohol use, for example, a history of binge drinking. Therefore, the numbers represented in this report are the minimum number of alcohol-related deaths.

Considering over half of us drink at levels classed as harmful, levels that are already causing damage, then it becomes obvious that we are only at the start of recognising the full extent of a crisis which is growing and starting even earlier. We are not powerless in the face of this crisis – the question is does the Government have the courage to act and put in place actions which we know could reduce alcohol consumption and potentially save lives: minimum pricing, reduced availability, reduced marketing/ advertising and introduction of accessible brief intervention/ advice programmes.”

For further information or comment contact:
Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray (01) 878 0610/ 087 995 0186