Estonia, Austria, France and Ireland head global alcohol consumption rankings according to a report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Alcohol consumption by adults in mainly rich OECD countries is estimated at an average of around 10 litres of pure alcohol per capita each year, equivalent to over 100 bottles of wine. This level has fallen slightly over the past two decades overall but has particularly risen in Finland, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Poland and Sweden. Consumption has also risen substantially in the Russian Federation, Brazil, India and China, although from low levels in the last two.
Levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland increased significantly from 1980 to 2001 and then decreased, but are still above the OECD average. In 2012, an average of 11.6 litres of pure alcohol per capita was consumed in Ireland, compared with an estimate of 9.1 litres in the OECD. Preliminary estimates (Revenue Commissioners) for 2014 show a slight drop to 11 litres per capita.
Most alcohol is drunk by the heaviest-drinking 20% of the population. Rates of hazardous and heavy episodic drinking in young people, especially women, have increased in many OECD countries: the share of children under 15 who have been drunk jumped from 30% to 43% for boys and from 26% to 41% among girls during the 2000s. Overall, less educated men are more likely to indulge in heavy drinking while the opposite is true for women where the better educated are more prone to heavy drinking.
Alcohol abuse ranks as one of the leading causes of death and disability, killing more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined. Between 1990 and 2010, harmful drinking rose from eighth to fifth leading cause of death and disability worldwide.
An analysis of the impact of alcohol abuse prevention policies in Canada, Czech Republic and Germany reveals that taking action can reduce rates of heavy drinking and alcohol dependence by five to 10%.
The think-thank for 34 mainly developed country governments says that policies should target heavy drinkers first. For instance, through primary care physicians who can identify harmful drinkers and persuade them to start dealing with the issue; and through a tougher enforcement of drinking-and-driving laws to cut traffic casualties.
But the OECD says broader approaches may also sometimes be needed to complement these measures, including by raising costs, for example through increased taxes, or by imposing minimum prices on cheaper alcohol. Greater regulation of alcohol advertising and increasing investment on educating young people on the dangers of harmful alcohol use is also important. Initiatives promoted by the alcohol industry may also have a role to play but more independent evidence of their impact is needed.
The OECD says in respect of Ireland: "The General Scheme of a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was approved by the Irish Government in February 2015, and will go to Parliament in the Autumn. This legislation is the most far-reaching proposed by any Irish Government, with alcohol being addressed for the first time as a public health issue. The Bill includes provisions for minimum unit pricing, health labelling on alcohol products, structural separation, restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol, regulation of sports sponsorship and enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers."