Irish drinking patterns "unrecognisable" compared to previous generations

Child psychologist Dr Bobby Smyth has called for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to be implemented immediately

A leading child and adolescent psychologist has warned that the level of alcohol consumption amongst the current generation of Irish adults is “unrecognisable” compared to previous generations.

Speaking to George Hook on High Noon today, Dr Bobby Smyth warned that people are now drinking much earlier in life – leading to an increased risk of alcohol dependence and potential brain injury.

Dr Smyth’s comments follow on from research in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) which found that even moderate drinking can damage your brain.

Irish drinking patterns

Dr Smyth told George that Irish drinking patterns have completely changed over the past 20 years.

“Certainly, 50 or 60 years ago the average age of drinking was closer to 20,” he said.

“Nowadays unfortunately the average age of drinking is around 15, so that really means [...] that 60,000 children are going to start drinking this year and 15,000 13-year-olds are going to start drinking this year.

He said that while there has been a slight downward turn in drinking habits over the past decade, “still we are drinking at levels that are extremely high by the standards of low-risk drinking.”

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill

Dr Smyth has called for the measures included in the forthcoming Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to be implemented immediately in an effort to curb problem drinking.

He said adolescence is a “particularly bad time” to begin drinking, adding that parents have a key role to play in terms of teaching their children the dangers of alcohol.

He said studies have shown that, on average, the more parents drink, the earlier children will follow suit and “the more problematic drinking pattern that they will demonstrate.”

“There are an awful lot of adults out there who think it is OK for 16-year-olds to be drinking and again that is quite different than would have been the prevalent view a generation ago,” he said.

“What we know from the science in terms of alcohol related harm is that the earlier you start drinking, the greater the risk of becoming dependent as an adult.

“We know that the more you drink the more you are damaging part of your brain called your hippocampus – which is essential for memory – and what [the BMJ] found is that there is no safe level of drinking.”

Alcohol advertising

He called for Ireland to move towards a system whereby the advertising of alcohol is severely restricted – most especially in connection with sport.

“Sport provides an alternative [to drinking] to some extent because sports require their participants not to drink - or at least to drink minimally,” he said.”Yet [sports] allow themselves to be used as vehicles to promote alcohol consumption.”

He said the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill represents the beginnings of a move towards recognising alcohol “as a health issue as opposed to a criminal justice or revenue generation issue.”

“It is the first move toward making people who sell alcohol more responsible for who they sell it to.”

You can listen back to the full conversation here: