Alcohol-related deaths are not reported by the media in almost all cases, says research

This study as published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism, found that the reporting of alcohol-related deaths in the media is far lower than those who actually die in alcohol-related deaths.

“In most newspaper reports into these alcohol related deaths, there was absolutely no suggestion of any alcohol use.  Where drinking was hinted at, this was via use of vague and ambiguous euphemisms such as ‘socialising’ in most cases.  The largest category of deaths was alcohol poisonings with about 130 such deaths per annum.  These deaths were the least likely to be reported in newspapers.  Surprisingly, where alcohol poisoning deaths were reported, alcohol use was less likely to be mentioned or suggested when compared to the articles on deaths due to falls, fires, drowning and road traffic collisions.  While generally unwilling to speculate on any possible role played by alcohol in these deaths, we found that journalists did demonstrate a willingness to speculate on other factors, such as road conditions or walls around rivers, as possible contributors to the deaths…”
Dr John Fagan, Senior Registrar in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, April 2014.

The National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) study found:

  • In 100 reports of 43 deaths, in both national and local newspapers, not one article reported that a person was drunk
  • Only two articles, about the same person, stated clearly that a deceased person had been drinking for a prolonged period of time before their death
  • Two thirds of the articles (67%) omitted any mention or suggestion of alcohol use whatsoever
  • In one third of articles where the possibility of alcohol consumption was suggested, in 75% of these cases it was simply to indicate that the person had been ‘socialising’ prior to their death
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) states that alcohol is the third leading cause of premature death and disability (Global Health Risks WHO, 2009)

“The key issue that arises from this study is that the Irish public are being left almost completely in the dark about the role which alcohol plays in dozens of deaths each year.  For whatever reason, journalists in Irish newspapers are not reporting on the fact of alcohol use by people prior to their deaths.  If a person drowns after being washed into sea by a freak wave while walking along a pier at 2pm, then that is an entirely unpredictable tragedy.  If a person drowns after going for a swim on a dangerous beach at 1am, having spent the previous five hours downing a large quantity of alcohol, that type of death is qualitatively different.  Our study indicates that both such deaths are likely to be presented to the public as tragic accidents, with alcohol almost completely airbrushed out of the reporting of the second death.  We would urge journalists to seek information about alcohol consumption by people prior to deaths in circumstances which are frequently alcohol-related and, if drinking did occur, to report it clearly, avoiding use of coded language such as terms like ‘socialising’.  This would allow the public to make more informed decisions regarding their own drinking behaviour and also regarding their support for strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm, such as the recently released Public Health Alcohol Bill.  Better and more accurate information may avert future deaths in similar circumstances”
Dr Bobby Smyth, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Addiction Studies, School of Medicine, at Trinity College Dublin, April 2014.

Study by J. Fagan, S. Lyons, and Bobby P. Smyth. “Content Analysis of Newspaper Reports on Alcohol-Related Deaths.” As published in Alcohol and Alcoholism online issue dated April 15, 2014 DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agu015.  The study population was identified using the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) which is an epidemiological database that records all deaths due to drugs and/or alcohol poisoning (as well as deaths among drug users and those who are alcohol-dependent.).  This report was provided by Trinity College Dublin and reported by on May 9, 2014.


Posted: Saturday 7 June 2014