Do you know the health risks of drinking alcohol?

A Drinkaware survey has provided some insights into what may influence adults to drink less.

According to the ‘Drinkaware Barometer’, 48% of those who had reduced their consumption in 2023 said they are more conscious now about the health effects associated with alcohol. Among those drinkers who are already making the choice to drink less, 63% cite physical health or fitness as a reason, with 31% mentioning their mental health.

Participants in the Drinkaware Barometer 2023 were shown a list of negative effects from drinking alcohol over the recommended levels on both short and long-term health and asked which they were aware of prior to the survey in order to gauge ‘total awareness’. If they answered without being shown the list, this was deemed ‘spontaneous’ awareness.

In terms of knowledge among the public of the health risks of excessive drinking, liver disease remains the health effect most prominently mentioned, with 86% total awareness. Over half (56%) of adults spontaneously mention liver disease when asked about any short or long-term health effects of excessive drinking that they may be aware of. Five other effects are recognised by at least two-thirds of adults, including: Impaired Judgement: 72% total awareness (1% spontaneous awareness)

Depression: 68% total awareness (9% spontaneous awareness)

Dehydration: 68% total awareness (no spontaneous awareness)

Lack of Concentration: 67% total awareness (1% spontaneous awareness)

Headache: 66% total awareness (3% spontaneous awareness)

However, while these figures demonstrate that total awareness of specific, mostly short-term, health effects is present for a significant cohort of adults, spontaneous awareness remains limited, particularly for more long-term health impacts. This is clear when we look at figures for awareness around other conditions such as heart disease or stroke, which has 59% total awareness, but only 14% spontaneously, cancer with 48% total awareness but 13% spontaneously, or foetal disorders during pregnancy, which, despite 58% total awareness (peaking at 70% among women), registered no spontaneous awareness at all.

Drinkaware spokesperson and GP Dr Máire Finn, commented: “According to the latest Drinkaware Barometer data, 48% of people were aware that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer. However, there are some positive actions we can take to reduce our own and our family’s cancer risk. Cutting down or cutting out alcohol is one of the ways we can help to lower the cancer risk, and the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers is lower for people who drink within the HSE low-risk weekly alcohol guidelines.”

Drinking within the HSE Low-Risk Weekly Alcohol Guidelines reduces your risk of alcohol-related health issues. The Low-Risk Weekly Guidelines for adults are:

Women: Less than 11 standard drinks spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days.

Men: Less than 17 standard drinksspread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days

Common standard drinks include a half pint of 4.5% lager, a 100ml glass of 12.5% wine and a pub measure of 40% spirits.