170,000 people are drinking at hazardous level: Medic
More than 200,000 people in Northern Ireland are drinking at or above "harmful levels", the chief medical officer has warned.
Dr Michael McBride said a total of 170,000 people are consuming alcohol at the higher "hazardous level" - which he believes is an under-estimate.
And a further 47,000 drink at the lower "harmful" rate.
Provisional figures show that 310 people here died directly as a result of alcohol misuse in 2015 - 30% up on the previous year.
Giving evidence to an Assembly committee examining updated licensing laws, he also confirmed three times as many people in Northern Ireland die from alcohol-related causes as those linked to drug misuse.
"It costs us as a society up to £900m a year (and) £240m of that is borne by Health and Social Care, which would build the new children's hospital or 15 new primary care centres," Dr McBride said.
"Alternatively, the money could be used to employ over 6,000 nurses, pay for 30,000 hip operations or deliver over 17 million hours of domiciliary care."
Dr McBride said statistics show that 74% of adults drink alcohol.
Some 21% of men and 8% of women drink more than the new alcohol guideline units, and 30% of us binge-drink.
"We estimate - it is probably an underestimation - that 170,000 adults here drink at hazardous levels and around 47,000 drink at harmful levels," Dr McBride added.
"However, the real issue is the harm that alcohol causes: increased risk of poor health; cancer; cardiovascular disease; liver disease; increased risk of dependence; poor mental health; suicide and self-harm; increased risks of being involved in and causing accidents; and increased risks of being involved in or being a victim of violence or assaults," Dr McBride went on.
He also revealed that alcohol 'hot-spots' where excess alcohol is consumed could be pin-pointed across the province under new plans being drawn up by health and police chiefs.
A special register is being considered to help locate suspect retail outlets.
"We are looking at a registry of individuals attending emergency departments who are intoxicated or attend with injuries as a consequence of being intoxicated and consuming excess alcohol, which would then be related back to the premises where they purchased or were served their alcohol," he said.
The committee has been granted more time to take evidence on the legislation.