Recent media reports of an emerging trend in younger women in their 30s and 40s developing liver failure due to increased alcohol consumption may have surprised many who read the headlines but to those of us who work in the field of addiction, there was no surprise.
Studies on alcohol consumption in Ireland have long pointed to a significant rise among young women since the early 2000s, with the introduction of alcopops and increased marketing of designer alcoholic products aimed at women during the Celtic Tiger period.
Health professionals at one of Ireland’s leading hepatology clinics have seen what they call a huge increase in the number of women being admitted with serious life-threatening liver disease.
With stories like this coming directly from the front line, the questions we need to be asking are many. Why are women drinking so much? How are they drinking? What are they drinking? And what can government policy on alcohol consumption do about it?
The most recent report on alcohol consumption, harm and policy from the Health Research Board (HRB) states that, overall, women are less likely to consume alcohol in a harmful manner than men. However, the issue lies not with the quantity of alcohol women drink but the strength of what they consume. For example, spirits account for one-third of female drinking compared to only one-tenth of what men drink. This indicates that while women may consume less alcohol, what they consume is more harmful to their health.
Drinking at home
A shift in how we consume alcohol from drinking in pubs to drinking at home could also be a factor in why Irish people are underestimating the amount they drink and therefore the harm it is causing to their health. This was underlined in an HRB report in 2013 which stated that 10 per cent of the overall public health budget for that year was spent on the effects of alcohol consumption.