The Awareness Week on Alcohol Related Harm takes place on November 18 - 22.
This year the HSE is encouraging people to look at their relationship with alcohol by taking the Self-Assessment test on AskAboutAlcohol.ie.
Research shows that over 50% of people in Ireland drink in a way that could be causing harm so it’s not surprising that lots of people have some worries or nagging doubts about their drinking and wonder if it would be a good idea to change the way they drink.
It may be obvious that alcohol is causing a problem with your health. However, there may also be less obvious symptoms, which you might not connect to alcohol. Various health problems can be caused or made worse by alcohol. For example, poor sleep, skin rashes, irregular or rapid heartbeat, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and mental health symptoms, such as, anxiety and low mood.
The Self-Assessment Tool on the HSE’s AskAboutAlcohol.ie website is designed to help people understand more about the impact their drinking is having on their lives. The feedback can help determine whether your relationship is within the low risk area, or whether you are overdoing it and need to take action.
A total of 14,337 people used the tool between April 2017 and March 2019. Question topics included age, gender, how often respondents drink alcohol, how many alcoholic drinks they have on a typical day, and how often they drink 6 or more standard drinks on a single occasion.
The Health Research Board (HRB) analysed the outputs from the self-assessment. Of those who completed the self-assessment test, almost a third were identified as hazardous/risky drinkers (30.9%) a further 15% were identified as harmful drinkers, and over a quarter (26.5%), were classified as having probable alcohol dependence.
Project Manager for the HSE Alcohol Programme, Marion Rackard, urges people to watch out for the less obvious signs of harmful drinking.
He said: "Many people who use the self-assessment 10 question tool on askaboutalcohol.ie are curious to understand and explore their pattern of drinking as they may have some concerns about the effect alcohol is having on their relationships, health or work.
"Healthy Ireland survey 2017 found that 39% of drinkers binge drink (6 or more standard drinks) on a typical drinking occasion and 40% of drinkers binge drink at least once a month which means that drinkers can easily ignore important signals which require attention before health and social harms become obvious. If signs like increased tolerance and blackouts are ignored and steps not taken to cut back the person may progress to becoming dependent. In a similar way to monitoring weight, it is healthy to have a drinking check-up."
According to Claire O’Dwyer of the Health Research Board (HRB) the majority of 14,000 respondents to the askaboutalcohol.ie self-assessment tool indicated a harmful or hazardous pattern of drinking.
She said: "A very important element of the tool is that it provides people with advice and support through a video with tailored feedback, depending on their risk level.”
The Self-Assessment Tool is based on the World Health Organisation Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), a ten item tool used to screen for alcohol problems. According to the WHO, hazardous drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption that increases the risk of harmful consequences for the user or others. Harmful drinking refers to alcohol consumption that results in consequences to physical and mental health.
If you would like to make a change, AskAboutAlcohol.ie has advice on cutting down and information on the benefits of drinking less, how to overcome any doubts you might have and information on why it's better to take action sooner rather than later if drinking could be causing you problems.
Some people find it difficult to imagine enjoying a night out or social occasion without alcohol so the idea of change may seem daunting. However, with the right motivation and support change is possible for anyone – many people succeed each year.
8 tips to help you make a change:
1. Know the amount you drink – lots of people are surprised when they work it out.
2. Keep a drinks diary for a number of weeks to understand when and where you drink, how much you spend, and the consequences of your drinking.
3. Get motivated – a healthier lifestyle or a personal challenge? Decide what you want to get from cutting down or taking a break.
4. Set a target - for example, try to stick within the low-risk weekly limits, or decide no alcohol for a month.
5. Take small steps - even drinking a bit less can mean less regret on nights out and feeling better, physically and mentally. Try alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, cutting out one drinking day or stopping for a week.
6. Do it with friends - cutting down or quitting with friends means you can support each other and enjoy some alcohol-free activities together.
7. Set a date - avoid starting at times when you usually drink the most - the weekend, on a big night out, or during a trip away.
8. Add in good things - cutting back on alcohol is not just about giving something up, it’s about opening the door to new good things – new experiences, better health and more happiness. If you are going to the pub less – do something fun instead.
If you think you will need extra support to change your drinking pattern:
• Talk to your GP
• Call the HSE Alcohol Helpline Freephone 1800 459 459 (open 9.30am – 5.30pm Mon-Fri)
• Visit our section Where to get help to see places you can go for advice and support
• Read about different types of treatment, and what to expect.
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