Introducing a minimum price for alcohol in
Northern Ireland is an important step in the prevention of suicide
and self-harm, as well as addressing wider health and social
issues, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland has
Dr Philip McGarry, Chair of the Royal College
of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, welcomed the consultation
into alcohol pricing launched today by Social Development Minister
Alex Attwood and Health Minister Michael McGimpsey - but said the
floor price must be set high enough to have a genuine impact on
Speaking at the launch, Dr McGarry said there
are strong correlations between alcohol and mental health problems.
"Psychiatrists see the effect of alcohol abuse on patients every
day, and it’s clear this is exacerbated by irresponsible promotions
that encourage people to drink more than they otherwise would," he
Dr McGarry said it is important the Northern
Ireland Executive takes a tougher stance than England, where the
Government plans to set a minimum price by imposing a ban on
selling alcohol for less than the combined tax and duty paid for
it, resulting in a minimum price of 31 pence per unit of beer and
28 pence per unit of cheap spirits. Medical professionals have said
these price measures will do little to tackle the health problems
caused by alcohol.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called
for a minimum price of 45 pence a unit, to put a floor under
discount wars. This would have very little impact for moderate
drinkers - increasing the average spend by about £10 a year - but
would be a deterrent for young binge drinkers and people dependent
It is estimated that 75-80% of alcohol
is consumed by the 20-25% of people who misuse it. Any pricing
policy will mainly target heavy drinkers, who buy 15 times more
alcohol than moderate drinkers, spend 10 times as much a year, and
pay 40% less per litre of pure alcohol through cheaper
The Royal College of Psychiatrists' major 2010
study into suicide and self-harm found
that alcohol is a key risk factor. Alcohol both increases the
symptoms of mental health problems such as depression and at the
same time lowers inhibitions. This can result in impulsive
self-harm, including suicide.
Dr McGarry said. "This isn’t a case of
psychiatrists saying that alcohol per se is bad, for most people
there is no problem with people enjoying a drink. It is about
facing up to the consequences of harmful drinking, particularly
among young people where affordability is a key factor. The
increase in problem drinking has coincided with alcohol becoming
much more affordable, two thirds cheaper in relative terms than in
"We understand that this might not be a
popular move, but many of the initiatives that we now accept as
being essential to saving lives, such as the introduction of seat
belts in cars, were unpopular when they were introduced.
Dr McGarry continued: "For many people,
minimum pricing would have advantages. Pubs are being undercut by
supermarkets meaning that more people are drinking at home.
Supermarkets are selling alcohol below cost to get people through
the door, and that means that our grocery bills are subsidising
cheap alcohol, so for people who drink moderately, minimum pricing
will have very little, if any, negative impact."
About alcohol and mental health
Alcohol can be a trigger for mental illness, but can also make
symptoms worse when people ‘self medicate’. Excessive drinking can
cause problems in the home that result in children developing
mental health problems.
There are clear links between alcohol abuse
and addiction. A significant percentage of people who die by
suicide, and of people who present at hospitals with deliberate
self-harm, suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide have been
drinking heavily. People with an alcohol addiction are much more
likely than the general population to die by suicide.
Read the Royal College of Psychiatrists in
Northern Ireland's factsheet
on alcohol and mental health.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also
produced a range of information on alcohol
and mental health for members of the public.
For further information, please
Kathy Oxtoby or
Deborah Hart in the Communications
Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538