The alcohol problem
About five years ago I was taking the bus from DCU to Dublin city centre, and sitting in the seats in front of me were two young people, I suspect students, who were discussing their plans for the evening. The gist of these plans was that they intended ‘to get totally smashed’. I don’t of course know how the evening turned out for them, and I hope that they returned safely without suffering any harm. But from time to time I have been asked whether I think that this generation of students drinks more alcohol and more frequently than used to be the case; indeed I was asked this question again this past week when I appeared as a guest on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.
I don’t know, to be honest, whether students drink more than anyone else, but I do believe that alcohol abuse today is worse than it was when I was younger. Sure, we drank a few pints every so often, and sometimes we might go for spirits (Southern Comfort whiskey was the spirit of choice amongst my peers), but the idea of setting out one evening intending mainly to get highly drunk would not have been a common one. As if to illustrate the point, an inquest this last week found that a student had died from alcohol poisoning after drinking excessive quantities of beer and vodka, and those with whom he was partying were themselves so badly intoxicated that they did not realise the seriousness of his condition and continued to play pranks on him while he was actually dying.
I am not a moralising spoilsport, but I believe that alcohol abuse by young people in Ireland has gone well beyond what is acceptable. Apart from the damage to people’s personal health and their safety, there are all sorts of other social consequences, including significant damage to public and private property, the intimidation of members of the community, litter, dangerous driving on the roads, and so forth. And yet, I don’t believe we are taking all this seriously enough. Too many still think it’s all just a bit of high spirits and fun. It isn’t. It’s time to do something about it. The President of University College Cork, Professor Michael Murphy, has suggested that alcohol prices need to go up to make drink less affordable. I agree with him. The idea being put forward by the drinks industry that excise duties on alcohol should be reduced is ludicrous, in my view – and while drinking in moderation is an acceptable part of our culture, we should never contemplate the further escalation of an alcohol problem on the grounds that this benefits the exchequer. In the long run, given the damage to health and property, it doesn’t anyway.