Over 90% of the adult population in developed countries drink alcohol and over half of all Irish drinkers have a harmful pattern of drinking and we continue to rank among the highest consumers of alcohol in the EU.

Every seven hours, someone in Ireland dies from an alcohol related illness and there are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol as all other drugs combined. Alcoholic liver disease rates and deaths almost trebled from 1995 and 2007.

Alcohol-related disorders were the third most common reason for admission to psychiatric hospitals between 1996 and 2005. In 2006/2007 alcohol was a factor in 41% of all cases of deliberate self-harm and in one study of Irish people who died as a result of suicide, more than half had alcohol in their blood.

Heavy drinking increases the risk of developing hepatitis, cirrhosis, some cancers, stomach disorders, pancreatitis, mental health problems, damage to nervous tissue, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems and /or accident risk. Heavy Drinking is defined as more than 3 to 4 standard drinks (units) per day for men and 2 to 3 standard drinks (units) per day for women.

Insurers try to identify applicants who have a higher risk of claim and treat their application accordingly. For Underwriters, the big question is how much can a person drink before it affects their health?

This is difficult because some people are unaware that their drinking is harmful and many who have harmful drinking patterns do not attend a health professional for treatment.

Insurers now ask how much an applicant drinks regularly and use tele-interviewing that elicits markedly better disclosure due to the confidential nature of the interview and the specialised question sets used by interviewers.

A targeted GP medical attendant report on alcohol abuse or dependence is used to aid the underwriter in risk assessment.

There is also a laboratory test available that helps detect heavy alcohol consumption (Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin or CDT) and this can be used in conjunction with liver function tests to aid in risk selection.