Monday 23 July 2007

Ireland - Drink

Earlier this month, the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) published a report outlining results of a survey on binge drinking. According to the survey, the average Irish person thinks a binge means 10 drinks or more. Meanwhile, health and addiction professionals use 'binge' to mean five units, which equals 2.5 pints of beer or three glasses of wine.

I understand these bodies probably have to be seen to take a hard line approach to our national alcohol consumption, but they have managed to categorise a huge percentage of the country as binge drinkers in one clumsy brush stroke. Maybe, 2 pints in one sitting is the ideal amount that we should strive for but the reality in Ireland is far removed from this. The front of the Sunday Times yesterday revealed a similar body from the US completed a study on alcoholism here because the Irish are "more culturally and genetically homogeneous than other nations, and because their drinking was among the highest of western countries". We certainly spend more than any other nation on alcohol and, unlike our soccer team, we are often top of the table in World and European consumption. Now, we are saying that people that have 3 pints of a Saturday evening in their local are binge drinkers as well. Whether this is true or not, it just casts a group of people that I imagine would pride themselves on their moderate imbibing in with the louts roaring in the street at 3am.

I think Tommy Tiernan gave a fairly good definition of binge drinking when he said "I've had four pints , anything after that and I only start acting the maggot". Obviously the amount varies for different people, but we all know that nice stage of drinking when we are nicely loosened out with 2/3 pints and the conversation is flowing and you're having the craic in general. It's a lovely place to be but next thing you know you're talking shite, throwing shapes at one of your younger sister's friends and doing something unbecoming on the dancefloor. Now, we've all had those nights and they can be great fun but after a while it becomes a set pattern and you don't choose to drink anymore. You just do.

It took me a while to break that cycle. At the start of this year, after an almighty 2 week bender my body just started physically refusing alcohol and I gave it up for almost 3 months. Since then , I have had 4/5 'big' nights but none have continued day after, like they would in the past. I have gone out a few nights and not drank at all but I do find it uncomfortable to stay in pub for a long time drinking minerals - not because I can't drink but because it's often too loud, packed and I hate fizzy drinks. While I was off the gargle , I read Alan Carr's book on drinking which was very logical and straightforward. He would reason that I was uncomfortable in the pub because I just didn't like it. Alcohol was only nulling my senses and I would imagine myself to be more comfortable. In some socials settings, I can be a tad shy when meeting new people and those first few drinks would help ease me into a conversation. Carr says people often take a while to settle and get comfortable in these situations anyway and I did find that I would relax after 20 minutes even without alcohol. He claims that alcohol is not only a poison but it stunts our development as people. We use it as a crutch to chat someone up, tell our boss what we really think of him or to talk to new people. Surely, we should be able to do this anyway. Although, I did start drinking again after reading the book I feel I now choose to drink on a night out. Some nights I might choose not to drink. Before, it was always a given that I would drink on a Saturday night without any thought as to whether I wanted to or not.

In the past, I think Irish people went out to chat, to sing, to dance, to play cards and have the craic in general. They still might have drank a big amount but that would have been secondary to whatever they were doing. Nowadays, Irish people stand around in packed bars where the music is too loud to talk or listen and we just check each other out while guzzling from bottles of American beer. By the end of the night, people have that hollow glazed look in their eyes and all control has been lost. The papers are depressingly full of reports of violence driven by alcohol.

I hope these alcohol awareness groups realise they are based in Ireland and infuse a sense of reality in what they strive to do. MEAS seem to be fairly switched in as I remember them organising quality non-alcoholic music and comedy gigs in college. Apparently, some softs drinks company is doing a promotion where designated drivers get free soft drinks for the night, which makes great sense as a Rock Shandy will cost more that a beer in pubs.

Maybe, heavy boozing is a stage some Paddys have to go through. I certainly did. It is the regaining a sense of control to pull back from the slippery slope that is often beyond many of us.

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