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, RCPI represented a patient-focused, independent voice in the national debate on alcohol.

An RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol was established in 2012 and was chaired by Professor Frank Murray, President of RCPI from 2014-2017, and a liver specialist in Beaumont Hospital.

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.

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.

Course and masterclasses.

We recommended the following evidence-based measures:

  • Introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing
  • Reduction of Alcohol Availability
  • Changes to our Culture of Alcohol Consumption
  • Raised Awareness of Low Risk Weekly Alcohol Levels
  • Embedding of Alcohol Screening into Clinical Practice
  • Development of a Model of Care for Alcohol-Related Health Problems
  • Funded Research       
Prof Frank Murray

Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland: Our campaign for the Public Health (Alcohol) Act

RCPI established the Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland with Alcohol Action Ireland in March 2015 with the aim of:

  • highlighting the rising levels of alcohol-related health harm in Ireland
  • campaigning for the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015
  • advocating to reduce the harm caused by unsafe alcohol use in Ireland.

The alliance was Ireland's first coalition of healthcare organisations, charities and alcohol health campaigners which came together to highlight harms caused by alcohol and to support the (then) Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland was chaired by Prof Frank Murray, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland from 2014-2017

Prof Frank Murray was also chair of the RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol and a liver specialist at Beaumont Hospital.

The initiative came to a successful conclusion in November 2018, after the Public Health Alcohol Act had been enacted.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was signed into law on 17th October 2018. The Act contains a range of evidence-based measures that target the pricing, availability and marketing of alcohol products – factors that are known to have the greatest impact on harmful drinking. More information on the Act is available here.

"Our College has advocated for this important legislation that can help to ease the frontline pressures on the health service. We know that there are 3 deaths per day due to alcohol use in Ireland that affects too many families and communities. Our unhealthy relationship with alcohol as a society is also putting an unsustainable burden on our health system, with up of 1,500 beds in hospitals taken up every night due to alcohol use, at a time when our health system is struggling to cope."

Professor Mary Horgan

President, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Working with Like-Minded Organisations

The Alliance had the support of key organisations, including:

  • Health Service Executive (HSE)
  • Irish Heart Foundation
  • Environmental Health Association of Ireland
  • Irish College of General Practitioners
  • Irish Medical Organisation
  • National Youth Council of Ireland
  • Rise Foundation
  • Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
  • No Name Club
  • Samaritans
  • Irish Cancer Society
  • Lust for Life
  • Dental Health Foundation
  • Union of Students of Ireland
  • National Suicide Research Foundation
  • National Women’s Council of Ireland
  • Mental Health Reform
  • Irish Medical Organisation
  • Irish College of Psychiatrists OF Ireland
  • Social Justice Ireland
  • Alcohol Forum
  • Children's Rights Alliance
  • Faculty of Paediatrics

Professor Frank Murray, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland explains what the commonest cause of death related to alcohol is

The Need For 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.

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

"The alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests."

World Health Organisation Director General, Dr Margaret Chan

Commenting in the British Medical Journal, 11 April 2013

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

Contact us

For information on our policy work on alcohol contact:

Louise Finn

Communications Executive

Tel: +353 86 796 5186

For general press enquiries contact Louise in our Communications Department.

Mairéad Heffron

Policy Specialist

Tel: +353 (0)86 8148027

Contact Mairéad for queries relating to our policy groups or if you have an idea for a policy paper.