Alcohol and drugs misuse

Alcohol and drug misuse, and their related harms, cost our society hundreds of millions of pound every year, and have therefore been identified as significant public health and social issues in Northern Ireland.

The new strategic direction for alcohol and drugs (2006-11)

In 2005, DoH led the development of a cross-sectoral strategy that sought to reduce the harm related to both alcohol and drug misuse in Northern Ireland. DoH launched this strategy, entitled the 'New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs', in 2006.

New strategic direction phase 2 (2011-16)

The New Strategic Direction (NSD) has been reviewed, revised and extended until 2016. NSD phase 2 reflects new trends and re-directs efforts to where it is most needed or to where new issues or concerns are emerging. The revised document was launched by the Health Minister on the 26th of January 2012. The overall aim of the 'New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs - Phase 2' is:

'to reduce the level of alcohol and drug related harm in Northern Ireland'

Weekly guideline

  • a single limit for men and women: while men suffer more risks of immediate harm, women are at greater risk of long-term health harm for most levels of consumption and for most age groups; broadly, these balance out
  • a new weekly guideline: this fits better with most people’s drinking than the current daily limit
  • the recommendation for regular drinking is not to exceed 14 units weekly, for men and women
  • for people who do drink as much as 14 units per week, the recommendation is that it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more

Single occasion drinking

  • no numerical guideline limit based on a specific number of units is recommended for drinking on any occasion, however infrequent. Instead the proposed guidance provides more general advice, about limiting the level and pace of drinking, and avoiding risky places and activities; and
  • because there is evidence that guidelines need to be precise about the behaviours being encouraged or discouraged, views will be sought on whether, as an alternative, to set a numerical unit level for this advice. further consideration of the health evidence may be considered that may allow a specific unit level to be set

Alcohol and pregnancy

all four UK CMOs have agreed to harmonise guidance across the UK. This will make it clear that not drinking alcohol during pregnancy or when planning pregnancy is the safest option, but not an absolute message of ‘no alcohol’

Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP)

On 3 December 2014, the Health Minister announced his intention to develop a policy to introduce MUP in Northern Ireland.

Informing his decision was a report from the University of Sheffield commissioned by DoH and DSD.

Officials are now developing a consultation paper for agreement by the Executive and public consideration in the new year.

Social costs of alcohol misuse

Excess alcohol consumption costs Northern Ireland up to as much as £900m each year. A report into the social costs of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland was commissioned by DoH.

Directories of services

Each of the Northern Ireland Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (DACTs) has produced a directory of services available in their area.


FRANK offers free and confidential advice about drugs, all day, every day, to anyone, whether it's children, parents or just the curious. The helpline is available in 120 different languages and a translator will be available if necessary. The FRANK website has masses of information and tips on how to deal with drugs and can refer you to local drug services.


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