RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol

Beer bottles

RCPI: Tackling Alcohol Health Harm

Excessive alcohol consumption in Ireland places an enormous burden on people’s health, the healthcare system and our wider society.

As a healthcare organisation representing thousands of doctors on the frontline of health services, we represent a patient-focused, independent voice in the national debate on alcohol.

Members of the RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol were doctors working in the Irish health system, many of whom were seeing increasing numbers of patients presenting with advanced alcoholic liver disease, cancer, head injuries and other alcohol-related illnesses and injuries.

Every day in Ireland, three people die as a result of alcohol. Some 1,500 hospital beds are occupied every night as a result of alcohol use, placing an unsustainable burden on the health services.

Our doctors wanted to take action to prevent more lives being lost and destroyed, by reviewing the latest evidence and proposing practical ways to tackle harmful alcohol consumption.

The RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol was established in 2012 and was chaired by Professor Frank Murray, past President of RCPI, and a liver specialist in Beaumont Hospital.

Professor Frank Murray, Chair of the RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol, explains what the commonest cause of death related to alcohol is

Why Do We Need to Take Action?

Social customs and economic interests should not blind us to the fact that alcohol is a toxic substance. It can harm nearly every organ and every system in our bodies.

High levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking cause serious health problems, ranging from alcoholic liver disease to increased risk of cancer.

Alcohol is unlike other retail products and can give you much more than a hangover - its use is linked to seven types of cancer, including breast cancer in women and bowel cancer. Even small amounts of alcohol are associated with an increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer.

88 deaths every month in Ireland are directly attributable to alcohol.

It is a factor in suicides, road traffic accidents and drownings.

Course and masterclasses.

What Do We Want?

We recommended the following evidence-based measures:

  • Introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing
    Minimum unit pricing prevents the sale of very cheap high-strength alcohol and is an effective way to target off-trade sales where the cheapest alcohol is sold. It targets young people and hazardous drinkers. Evidence shows it can prevent deaths and reduce the harm caused by unsafe alcohol consumption.
  • Reduction of Alcohol Availability
    The number of alcohol outlets should be reduced and low cost sales promotions and discounts should be strictly controlled. Sale and supply to minors should not be tolerated.
  • Changes to our Culture of Alcohol Consumption
    Our culture of excessive alcohol consumption in Ireland is nothing to be proud of. Alcohol advertising/marketing encourages people, particularly younger people, to consume alcohol and contributes to a culture of acceptability. Alcohol sponsorship of sports events and organisations should be phased out and stricter controls should be introduced on where and when alcohol is advertised.
  • Raised Awareness of Low Risk Weekly Alcohol Levels
    We must raise awareness of low risk levels of alcohol consumption, which in Ireland are 11 standard drinks for women and 17 standard drinks for men. Labelling on alcohol products sold in Ireland should show units of alcohol, grams of alcohol per container, calorific content and health warnings.
  • Embedding of Alcohol Screening into Clinical Practice
    Screening for hazardous, harmful and dependent drinking should be embedded into clinical practice. Patients who don’t respond to brief interventions need adequate access to alcohol services.
  • Development of a Model of Care for Alcohol-Related Health Problems
    We want to see an integrated model of care for treating alcohol-related health problems. This includes:

    • clinical guidelines for the treatment of alcohol-related health problems
    • links between alcohol treatment services in hospitals and the community
    • aftercare in the community to prevent relapse
    • establishing outpatient detoxification services
  • Funded Research       
    We are urging the Government to allocate funding for research into alcohol-related harms, especially alcoholic liver disease. Levies on the alcohol industry should be used to support this research.

Dr Orla Crosbie says that over 40% of her patients presenting with cirrhosis of the liver are women

Dr Stephen Stewart, Liver Specialist at the Mater Hospital talks candidly about the stark reality of the drinking culture in Ireland.

Members of the RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol

Prof Frank Murray (Chair) Beaumont Hospital Dublin & Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Prof Joe Barry Faculty of Public Health Medicine, RCPI
Dr Declan Bedford Faculty of Public Health Medicine, RCPI
Dr Turlough Bolger Faculty of Paediatrics, RCPI
Dr Thomas Breslin Irish Association for Emergency Medicine
Dr Blanaid Hayes Faculty of Occupational Medicine, RCPI
Dr Marie Laffoy National Cancer Control Programme
Prof Aiden McCormick Irish Society of Gastroenterology
Prof Deirdre Murphy Institute of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists
Dr Brian Norton Irish College of General Practitioners
Dr Kieran O’Shea Institute of Orthopaedic Surgery
Dr Eimear Smith Irish Association for Rehabilitation Medicine
Dr Stephen Stewart Centre for Liver Disease Mater Misericordiae Hospital
Prof William Tormey Faculty of Pathology, RCPI

Contact us

For information on our policy work on alcohol contact: