People with alcohol problems increasingly combining drink and cocaine, HRB says

Cocaine surpasses cannabis as the most common additional drug among problem drinkers

Cocaine use is on the rise among people with alcohol problems and has surpassed cannabis as the most common additional drug used by people seeking treatment for alcohol addiction last year, according to the Health Research Board (HRB).

The number of people treated for problem alcohol use increased last year, with 8 per cent more cases recorded by treatment services than in 2021.

For the first time cocaine overtook cannabis as the most common additional drug used by those in alcohol treatment services, with cocaine use increasing by 135 per cent between 2016 and 2022.

Polydrug use, where more than one substance is consumed, was reported in almost one in four cases in treatment last year. Some 61 per cent reported that cocaine was the drug they used alongside alcohol, followed by cannabis (49 per cent), benzodiazepines (22 per cent) and opioids (13 per cent).


Cocaine was the most common additional drug reported in new and previously treated cases. Each case referred to an episode of treatment, rather than an individual service user, the HRB said, with some people seeking treatment more than once in the year, or at more than one treatment centre.

“By demonstrating increased demand in treatment for problem alcohol use along with a rise in polydrug use, our data points to a shift in behaviour over time,” HRB chief executive Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll said. “By continuing to monitor these trends, the HRB can help inform policy and treatment paths to provide the right support to those who need it.”

Spirits were cited by most service users as the most common type of alcohol consumed, followed by beer – a reversal of the 2016 position. Spirit consumption was referenced in 57.5 per cent of cases with beer in 49.1 per cent, wine in 28.3 per cent and cider in 9.2 per cent.

Women and men who sought treatment were drinking more in a day than the weekly alcohol consumption guidelines recommended to maintain a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

“Women seeking treatment for problem alcohol use are typically consuming 15 standard drinks every day, and show a preference for spirits followed by wine. For men, the figure is 20 standard drinks every day, but they prefer beer followed by spirits,” senior researcher at the HRB Dr Suzi Lyons said.

More than 40 per cent of cases recorded last year related to people entering treatment for the first time, and almost two-thirds of these were classified as alcohol dependent when they entered treatment, Dr Lyons said.

“Of the three in four cases who had consumed alcohol in the 30 days prior to treatment, almost six in 10 consumed alcohol daily – an increase from just over three in 10 in 2016.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times