The head of a regional drug and alcohol task force has warned that young people are putting themselves at risk by consuming quantities of alcohol at home before going on nights out.
Martin Lee, the independent chairperson of the Western Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (WRDTF ) says his organisation is concerned about anecdotal evidence of this habit of “preloading” at home before venturing out socially.
He says young people are not taking into account the accumulative effect of alcohol and the physical and medical dangers to which they are being exposed.
“It is well known that alcohol use in adolescence is associated with greater risk of engaging in harmful behaviours such as drug use, drink driving, risky sexual behaviour, antisocial activity and violence.
“It can also contribute to low educational achievement and work performance. The WRDTF is concerned that adolescent substance misuse can lead to long-term physical and mental ill-health and disturbed family and social relationships.”
He points out that alcohol offences, which account for almost a fifth of youth crimes, are the main reason why children are referred to the Garda Youth Diversion Programme.
Half of crimes are alcohol related
“Many crimes are committed by young people when they are under the influence of alcohol, bringing the proportion of crimes where alcohol is a factor up to half of all youth crimes,” adds Mr Lee.
He says it is important to address alcohol related concerns and seek help early. He outlines that the WRDTF is committed to significantly reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of substances through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research.
City councillor and member of the Galway City Alcohol Forum and Galway Healthy Cities organisation Níall McNelis says young people are being encouraged to start drinking alcohol earlier through marketing campaigns - especially on social media - which promote cheap alcohol.
Speaking to this newspaper he states there is growing evidence that alcohol marketing is having a direct impact on young people’s drinking behaviour.
“Those exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking, or if already drinking, to drink more.”
He is calling for the introduction of new restrictions on the advertising, marketing and sponsorship of alcohol and says he is concerned that alcohol is increasingly viewed as part of the normal weekly shop.
“Alcohol advertising helps to normalise drinking and presents alcohol as risk-free. We need to restrict advertising by supermarkets on the weekly offers sheets where alcohol is seen as a weekly household commodity and is being portrayed as a normal part of one’s shopping basket.”
He says there is growing evidence which documents the impact of alcohol related harm, not just on individual drinkers and their families, but on the wider society, such as social disorder, vandalism, violence and other crimes, fewer community amenities, absenteeism and reduced work performance.
“The estimated cost of excessive alcohol consumption is €3.7 billion a year due to health, crime/public order and other costs. Figures from Alcohol Action Ireland indicate that alcohol-related harm costs each taxpayer in Ireland an estimated €3,318 a year. And that’s just the financial cost.”