Thursday 22 August 2019

Alcohol addition needs to be tackled


By Esther HAYDEN

Addiction councillor Cllr Davy Hynes believes that alcohol abuse plays a large role in the suicide rate across Wexford and Ireland.

Cllr Hynes said that he had read in last week's edition of the Wexford People that outgoing mayor Frank Staples believes that 'we need to take the gloves off and tackle suicide head on'.

Cllr Hynes said that as someone active in the area of mental health and addiction, he was fully in favour of this.

'Frank's commitment to this issue of reducing the stigma of suicide is commendable and has won him all round admiration because in Wexford we have one of the highest rates of suicides in the country, where sixteen people died by suicide in 2016 alone. And Frank's own initiative the 'Ask' campaign, as well Community Minds and Cycle Against Suicide will no doubt help to raise awareness and thereby save lives.

'But as an addiction councillor I have to say there is a rather large 'elephant in the room' that is not being talked about and it is the part that the abuse of alcohol and to a lesser extent other substances and addictions is playing in this scourge in our community.

'I know this is a contentious issue and is by no means the only reason people take their own lives. But while our fondness for the 'few drinks' is known far and wide. If we want to 'tackle suicide head on' as the former mayor said, we need to take a hard look at some what may be uncomfortable facts about this issue, if we are really serious about tackling this issue.

'At a recent conference on the role of alcohol in mental health and suicide Dr Bobby Smyth said: 'Alcohol can reduce inhibitions enough for an individual to act on suicidal thoughts which they might never have done if not under the influence of alcohol. 'The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the risk of suicide when a person is currently abusing alcohol is eight times greater than if they were not abusing alcohol. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Irish men aged 15 to 24.'

'Dr Smyth was talking about the current trends in alcohol consumption among young people in Ireland and the impact their drinking is having on their mental health. His presentation can be seen on the Alcohol Action Ireland website.

'The more teenagers drink the more likely they are to express anxiety and depressive symptoms. Drinking in adolescence hampers the acquisition of healthy coping skills required for independent, adult life.

'Alcohol is a factor in more than half of completed suicides in Ireland and over one third of episodes of deliberate self-harm. Alcohol is associated with increasing self-harm and suicide among both men and women.

'Alcohol contributes to increasing rates of self-harm and it causes increased self-harm at specific times in the year, such as a peak of self-harm in July and August. This peak would not exist if alcohol were not involved.

'Alcohol is associated with increasing trends in highly lethal methods of self-harm, in particular among men.

'There is a consistent pattern of peaks of self-harm (50 or more self-harm presentations to hospital) on public holidays or the day after, such as January 1, March 17 and 18, and June 5. 'Reducing Irish adolescents' heavy drinking should reduce their rate of deliberate self-harm by at least 17 per cent. Among men aged 40 years and older who had died by suicide, the majority (76.5 per cent) had a history of alcohol abuse.

'In Northern Ireland, 70 per cent of under-25s known to psychiatric services who later took their own lives had a drinking problem.

'Remember this substance is such a complex part of our culture in Ireland and while we have a long history of drinking, the price, potency and availability of alcohol means we drink more and differently now example more home drinking.

'The price we pay is in lives and money. As this Dr Smyth said 'we mustn't blame the young people when they're only following the example of the adults'.

'This terrible cost to society has led to the government promising to bring forward a bill. The Alcohol Public Health bill is based on international research and is a package of changes proven to work. But it is under threat because the alcohol industry is lobbying our politicians to change it using a wide range of tactics.

'The new bill will not solve Ireland's all of alcohol abuse problem or prevent all suicides. But it is however a vital first step in changing our culture so that children as young as 8 years are not brainwashed into thinking being Irish means drinking.

'But the drinks industry are lobbying as never before to ensure the main action points are watered down. Some of the fears the alcohol industry are putting out include: 'Drink prices will increase'.

'But the fact of the matter is that at the current proposed minimum unit price, drink prices will only increase if retailers are selling below cost.

'The drinks industry is also claiming that the bill will damage our economy. However, we taxpayers subsidise the alcohol industry profits by €1 billion each year (even after excise duties) due to costs of alcohol harm.

This is only two of the many area that the drinks lobby want to influence us.

'Real change happens when people face up facts like we had to do with tobacco issue when Micheal Martin took on the vested interests which has helped to keep public places smoke free and encouraged people to quit or not start smoking in the first place.

'On a local level, the lack of a 24/7 psychiatric acute unit and the inadequate health services for addictions especially detox and residential treatment unless of course you have personal insurance.

'It is no use playing lip service as many politicians do in this country instead it is time for facing up to this scourge if we want to reduce needless deaths and broken families.'

Wexford People

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