Against The Tide - Drinking in Ireland
Home of the Black Stuff. The Drunken Irish. The craic. Paddies Day - to name just a few of the associations non-natives would link to our Emerald Isle – tacking onto the theme of our fondness for the gargle.
As a country, the drinking culture in Ireland pervades every social occasion, not least in our capital city. Booze has been the familiar guest at our most celebrated of occasions. Weddings, Christenings, Anniversaries – in fact, any event which brings people together to mark a ‘special’ occasion. Our guest is such the social butterfly and loyal stalwart that he’ll also able to attend events markedly contrasting with joyous occasions – wakes, funerals - even if it’s only you, he’ll be there.
The juggernaut multi-billion dollar drinks industry has found novel ways to entice new members to their club through massively discounted drinks promotions in bars, a growing range of sugary alcopops expertly marketed to impressionable teenagers, even to the point of creating an annual day where drinkers around the world pay homage to the founder of our nation’s most famous export.
A night out in Ireland without the booze is likely to be greeted with something akin to disbelief and disgust, even by the closest of friends. Armed with the most plausible reasons – driving, medication or hanging from the previous night, most are unlikely to be met with scorn and receive little sympathy.
“Sure, just the one will be grand. What are you having?”
The interrogation, justification and subsequent alienation when sticking to your sober guns highlight just how strong the conditioning is. What you hoped would be consigned to a footnote in your night, your sobriety now becomes highlighted, a stark reminder that your decision doesn’t sit well with the drinker who suddenly feels uneasy in your presence. Your decision has changed their enjoyment of the night. Your selfishness changes the dynamic. You try to convince them otherwise. It’s a losing battle, and soon enough your argument drives a wedge, one which now chips away at your own fragile resolve and hopes for a dry night.
Is drinking in Ireland really such a problem? 97% of Irish people don’t think so. However, as Mark Twain famously said, - “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
The strain on A&E and hospital resources are particularly revealing. Much of this can be attributed to our binge drinking culture which 40% of Irish adults engage in.
The number of people discharged from hospital whose condition was wholly attributed to alcohol rose by 82% between 1995 and 2014 (approximately 17,000). Males accounted for 72% of these discharges. Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) was the most common chronic alcohol disease (accounting for four-fifths of all disease in 2013). In one published report in Ireland, alcohol related injuries spiked on Saturday and Sunday between 3-4am. The overall top diagnosis was fractures. The top reported cause was found to be falls and trips.
Alcohol was involved in 115 deaths in Ireland in 2014 (all poisonings), more than any other drug. This doesn’t factor into consideration suicides or drink driving fatalities. Other items to highlight in the HRB report:
In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for 160,211 bed days in public hospitals; that is 3.6% of all bed days that year; compared to 56,264 bed days or 1.7% of the total number of bed days in 1995.
€1.5 billion was the cost for alcohol-related discharges from hospital. That is equal to €1 for every €10 spent on public health in 2012. This excludes the cost of emergency cases, GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.
An estimated 5,315 people on the Live Register in November 2013 had lost their job due to alcohol use.
The estimated cost of alcohol-related absenteeism was €41,290,805 in 2013.
A National Alcohol Diary Survey in 2014 reveals that 79.4% of the adult population drink alcohol, with alcohol dependency highest in the demographic 18-24-year-olds (14.7%). Ireland sits just behind Austria (40.5%) at the top of the league table (194 countries!) when it comes to binge drinking.
Presenting these figures in black and white to the most hardened of drinker may have little impact. Perhaps you, the reader, may feel that your handle on alcohol is firm enough to prevent a slide into the above statistics. If there is one thing that my own alcohol consumption has taught me in almost two decades, it is this – grips weaken.
It is important to educate and provide transparency that, for many Irish people, the struggle is real. Alcohol and the devastating impact it has on families and how it is viewed in society needs to be reconsidered. It is time to redress the balance, and in view of the evidence, non-drinkers reasons for abstaining should at the very least be respected. However, the conditioning is strong and it will take a shift in our cultural mindset, a growing number of people to make a stand and question societal norms before anything changes.
Getting educated is the start of the journey – a journey that doesn’t need to be painful or taken alone. Help and resources are at hand. You just need to know where to look.