Major Research Regarding Alcohol Use and Drinking Behaviours among Amateur Sportsmen in Ireland Published

Posted on: 24 November 2010

Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with the HSE recently published research into alcohol use and drinking patterns among amateur Irish sportsmen in what is believed to be the largest study ever undertaken on alcohol use among adult sportspeople in Ireland.

The research, which was conducted by Professor Shane Allwright (TCD) and Dr Anne O’Farrell (HSE/TCD) of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity College Dublin, together with Susan Kenny, Nazih Eldin and Gerry Roddy of HSE Health Promotion Department in Dublin North East, found that alcohol consumption amongst GAA players was higher than those found in a nationally representative sample of males of a similar age, and that over half of the members surveyed engaged in binge drinking.

The research published in BioMed Central Research Notes, an online medical journal, forms part of an extensive evaluation, undertaken by TCD and funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) and HSE, into an innovative HSE health promotion programme focused on reducing alcohol use and related harms within the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club setting.

Sporting organisations and clubs are key settings for promoting health and well-being, and participation in sport has numerous proven health benefits. However, international research has shown that those involved in sport may be more likely to engage in regular binge drinking than the rest of the population.

In 2004, the GAA established a task force to consider how the organisation could promote positive health behaviours and reduce alcohol related harms within both the organisation itself and the wider community.  In response to the GAA task force recommendations and other national recommendations, TCD and the HSE Health Promotion Department in Dublin North East established a collaborative partnership with the specific aim of implementing and evaluating an alcohol health promotion programme for the GAA.

A survey was undertaken to assess current alcohol use and associated health behaviours within participating GAA clubs.  The research among 960 playing members of the GAA is believed to be the largest study ever undertaken on alcohol use among adult sportspeople in Ireland. The findings show that:

  • over 90% of players were current drinkers;
  • almost one third (31%) reported drinking over the recommended limit of 21 standard drinks per week;
  • just over half of the current drinkers (54.3%) reported drinking 6 or more standard drinks in a row at least once a week (regular binge drinking);
  • almost all (87.6%) of the 864 drinkers reported experiencing at least one harm due to their drinking within the last 12 months;
  • regular binge drinking was more common among players who said they were under 18 when they had their first drink;
  • regular binge drinking was significantly associated with increased likelihood of reporting alcohol-related harms e.g. players who regularly binge drink were twice as likely to report being in a fight or that alcohol harmed their work or studies.

Although problem alcohol use outcomes were higher than those found in a nationally representative sample of males of a similar age, the study confirmed that smoking rates among GAA players at 8% is significantly lower than the national average for young men of the same age.

Speaking about the results of the survey, Professor Shane Allwright of TCD said: “The GAA were to be commended for their pro-active approach to the issue of alcohol misuse. Having recognised that there might be a problem, rather than sweeping it under the carpet, they are willing to use the study to evaluate the size of the problem and are already trying to address the issues raised.”

Dr Nazih Eldin, Head of Health Promotion, HSE Dublin North East  said: “Working with the GAA in order to meet the recommendations of the GAA Taskforce on Alcohol helps us reach the players, coaches and followers of the game, and TCD’s research informed the HSE’s intervention programme in an insightful way. This collaborative approach gives us the best possible basis to address alcohol issues in a targeted way.”

As an initial step in the development of the programme, Dr Anne O’Farrell pointed out that while these figures may look bad, players of other team sports such as rugby, soccer or hockey, may be similar or worse but we do not yet have this information for other sports.

Following the initial survey, a comprehensive health promotion programme was put in place by the Health Promotion Department of HSE Dublin North East.  This comprised alcohol and nutrition health education sessions for GAA players and mentors and a social marketing campaign in local sports media.  The key health promotion messages for the programme focused on the benefits to participants’ health and sports performance of drinking less alcohol and making healthy lifestyle choices.  The programme encouraged clubs to adopt substance use prevention policies that would support players and mentors to choose healthier choices. Information was provided to participants of local HSE addiction services should they require additional help or support.  The programme incorporated resources and key messages from the GAA’s own Alcohol and Substance Use Prevention Programme (ASAP) to allow for ongoing sustainability of the programme.

To view or download the research paper, please visit: