Alcohol abuse costs Northern Ireland £900million per year says Health Minister

The Health Minister said that further action is needed to tackle the alcohol misuse problem that costs Northern Ireland up to £900million per year.

The Minister was speaking as findings of a research study to estimate the cost to society of alcohol misuse to Northern Ireland in 2008/09 were published. The study showed that based on 2008/09 prices, the cost was estimated to be £679.8million within a range of £500million and £884million.

The Minister said: “Alcohol misuse is one of the biggest public health issues facing Northern Ireland and its impact cannot be underestimated.

“This research shows that the cost to the Health Service alone may be as high as around £160million each year with a further cost of £82million to Social Services. These figures are particularly pertinent in the context of my Department’s very challenging financial situation because this is money that could be spent providing key frontline services.”

The research also looks at the cost to Fire and Police Services (£279 million), Courts and Prisons (£103 million), and the wider economy (£258 million).

The Minister continued: “Too many of our young people are putting their mental and physical health at risk because they are able to buy alcohol at a pocket money price. That is why I strongly support the calls in Scotland and elsewhere for a minimum price for alcohol.

“My Department’s New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs has a clear focus on young people’s drinking and binge drinking. This is also an issue that the Public Health Agency has been active in driving forward. But more needs to be done. We must ensure that alcohol is not easily accessible for young people.

“Tackling alcohol misuse is not an issue that my Department, or indeed Northern Ireland is facing in isolation, it is a task that runs right across Government. By taking a pro-active joined-up approach we will be able to make a real difference.”

The Minister concluded: “However alarming these figures are, they cannot bring home the personal tragedies that alcohol misuse has on many individuals, families and communities right across Northern Ireland. Misuse of alcohol fuels mental health problems, anti-social behaviour and domestic violence. We need to continue to challenge the whole of our population on the issue and change our society’s attitude and behaviour towards alcohol.”