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Health Minister | Harm caused by alcohol remains key challenge

Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that the harm related to alcohol use remains a key public health challenge.

The Minister was speaking following the publication of a report from NISRA which examines recent trends in alcohol-specific mortality in Northern Ireland and highlights the associated socio-demographic linkages.

The Health Minister said:

“My Department worked with NISRA on this report as part of the evidence base for the development of a new alcohol and drug strategy for Northern Ireland aimed at preventing and addressing the harms related to all substance use.

“The harm related to alcohol use is one of the key public health challenges we face, each one of these deaths is preventable and it is vital that we all as a society do more to address the harm that alcohol causes.”

Minister Swann said:

“We can see from this report the very real and increasing harm that alcohol consumption can cause to individuals, families and communities right across the province. Importantly the evidence also shows us that the harms do not impact equally on all parts of our society, therefore we need to do more to address these health inequalities.

“The learning we have from reports like this will be built into our new Substance Use strategy. The public consultation on this new strategy finished in February and we are currently analysing the many comments received.”

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said:

“If people drink too much, they can put themselves and those around them at risk of harm. As a society we need to continue to challenge drinking behaviours at both an individual and a population-wide level.”

Dr McBride said:

“I, alongside counterparts in the other UK administrations, have developed alcohol guidelines which provide the public with clear advice on the risks associated with consuming too much alcohol. These guidelines take into account research in relation to the harmful impact alcohol consumption can have on people’s health, including the risk of developing various cancers. To drink at low risk, men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – approximately 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine.”

Concluding Minister Swann said:

“It is the desire to tackle the harms caused by alcohol that led me to make a commitment to have a full public consultation on the introduction into Northern Ireland of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol. Work on developing this consultation will begin as soon as the new Substance Use strategy is finalised.”

The Alcohol-Specific deaths in Northern Ireland: Socio-Demographic Analyses report was published by NISRA and is available at:


The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) today published the research examining recent trends and socio-economic associations in alcohol-specific mortality in the Northern Ireland population.

Age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) are used to directly compare mortality rates for different groups, including males with females, or regions, using the age structure of a standard population. The alcohol-specific ASMR (per 100,000) in Northern Ireland, for persons aged 15-74 years, increased by 48% from 15.8 in 2001 to 23.4 in 2019.

Between 2001 and 2019, male (m) mortality rates for alcohol-specific deaths have been approximately two times higher than female (f) rates. However, mortality rates for females have risen more sharply than for males since 2001, both where alcohol is the underlying cause of death (+41% m, +64% f) and where alcohol is a contributory cause (+76% m, +124% f).

For contributory alcohol deaths in younger persons (aged 16-44 years), the main underlying causes of death were drug-related (38%) and transport accidents (18%). Older adults (aged 45+ years) with alcohol as a contributory factor in deaths had most commonly a chronic condition as the underlying cause of death for example, circulatory (29%) and respiratory illness (16%).

There was notable geographic variation in alcohol deaths (combined underlying and contributory causes). The highest ASMRs (per 100,000) were evident in Belfast (59.9) and Derry and Strabane (49.2) Local Government Districts. There was a five-fold greater alcohol-specific (combined underlying & contributory causes) ASMR in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.

Alcohol deaths (combined underlying and contributory causes) are observed across a range of socio-economic groups, however, after taking account of other factors, the most at-risk groups are those in households without access to a car; males; those living alone having been separated/divorced or widowed; and persons aged 45-64 years. An excess risk of alcohol death (combined underlying and contributory causes) was associated with urban residence (22%) and with an indication of mental illness (20%).

Females aged 65-74 years (compared to females aged 16-44 years) had a 42% reduced likelihood of alcohol death while males aged 65-74 years had a 23% increased likelihood of alcohol death (compared to males aged 16-44 years).