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Alcohol Guidelines & Mental Health

The Revised Limits for Alcohol

Alcohol & Mental Health

Research shows that up to 50% of suicides are associated with the presence of alcohol.

Irish records suggest that alcohol was involved in almost half of male deliberate self-harm episodes, and in 39% of female deliberate self-harm episodes in 2003.

A study published in 2011, found that alcohol actually had a much larger impact on suicide rates than unemployment.

The Revised Alcohol Guidelines

The Irish guidelines regarding alcohol consumption were reduced in July of last year, surprisingly without any major national media campaign.  


The Department of Health reduced the maximum recommended intake;

for men from 21 to 17 units per week 

for women, it was reduced from 14 to 11 units per week. 


These new changes form part of the healthy eating guidelines from the revised food pyramid. 


What counts as 1 “unit” of alcohol?

½ pint of beer, lager or cider (175 calories)

A single pub measure of spirits (75 calories)

A small 100ml glass of wine (85 calories)


For better health and weight management, both men and women should aim to consume less than the new reduced guidelines. 


So why have the limits been reduced in Ireland? 

Alcoholic drinks are essentially liquid calories and if consumed to excess without adequate physical activity, it can contribute to worsening our obesity problem; 70% of men, over 50% of women and 25% of children are now overweight or obese.  


The recently published results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC Study) found that approx. 1 of 10 cancers in men and 1 of 33 cancers in women can be directly attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.   The types of cancers which are directly related to alcohol intake include mouth, oesophagus, liver, colorectal, and breast cancer in women.  


In addition, alcoholic liver disease is unfortunately on the rise, particularly amongst those aged 18-35 years.




To the vinyards….

There is growing evidence that red wine consumed in moderation may help protect against some cancers and heart disease.   It is likely that the health benefits of wine are related to the non-alcoholic components rather than the alcohol itself.  Numerous studies have found that red wine contains antioxidant compounds e.g. gallic acid and catechins which help to prevent cell damage. Remember to take it easy on the vino though, as 1 bottle usually contains 8 units of alcohol!


Take Home Messages;

If you enjoy a glass of wine with your favourite TV programme or a few drinks whilst socialising at the weekend then by all means continue to do so! 

The key is to monitor your alcohol consumption over 2-4 weeks and ensure that you are staying within the new alcohol limits and taking at least two alcohol free days each week. 

If you are taking certain types of medications for altered mood, anxiety or depression, it is often best to avoid alcohol completely as alcohol can affect the metabolism and effectiveness of such medications.

Written by Ellen Roche
Consultant Dietitian & Clinical Nutritionist



Pope, K. & Vasquez, M.J.T. (2007). Responding to suicidal risk. In K. S. Pope & M. J.T. Vasquez (Eds.) Ethics in Psychotherapy and counselling: A practical guide.  John Wiley, Publishers.

National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) (2005). Reach out: National strategy for action on suicide prevention 2005–2014. Dublin: Health Service Executive.

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