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.

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16 Comments on “The alcohol problem”

  1. Victor Says:

    As you know in the USA in all 50 states you cannot drink until 21 and you do not see any of the public drunkenness you see in the UK or Ireland.
    Of course US students drink but it tends to be in supervised settings.
    Change the law to 21 in Ireland is probably impractical –maybe beer and wine up 21 but no spirits
    The student who died had drunk 10 large beers and a half litre of vodka—that is insane.

    If you look at the per capita drink intake in Ireland it is quite alarming as a significant proportion of the population do not drink at all–so those who do are drinking a great deal.


  2. I wish the picture here in the USA were that rosy, but there’s actually plenty of trouble here with binge drinking, drink-driving, and alcoholism in general. The laws against selling alcohol to those under 21 helps, I’m sure, but we regularly see sad stories like the one cited about the student who died after ingesting an incredible amount of alcohol.

    • copernicus Says:

      I agree with you about the US situation. In my days of 1970s,in my university town in Midwest, we did not have problems with student binge drinking, although there were a few students who showed up at the campus walkin clinic with hangovers. But in 2000 during my last visit, it was a different story.

  3. Vincent Says:

    Now that’s just tommyrot. Using that argument there is a valid reason the put up the price of Sugar being as it is the source not only of this but also diabetes.
    And while there are issues with this situation it is not the one you have produced.
    On both these Islands, the central issue has to do with the management of the sale rather than cost. None are whining about the drink swilled at home, only the visible effects as seen on the street by those sober enough to realise that there is real danger attached.
    We here in Ireland do not get the TV coverage one sees weekly from the UK, but the same occurs. For there is no difference given enough alcohol actions will result as the body is being poisoned. It is then there is a need for the Police to swoop in and scoop those people and carry them to a drunk tank next to a Hospital. It’s not as if they haven’t payed via the tax on the beer for the privilege.
    No, all in all what’s needed is the requirement that all the establishments that sell alcohol stagger their closing times from midnight onwards. Such that every 20min or so another empties itself of X persons until 4am. They could get the times each year when they are re-licenced. And from midnight no one gets into an establishment.
    So, this is a public management issue where the Clubs eject all at the same time causing visible chaos and not an alcohol management one. And realistically how much management can you have on drunk people anyway, surely it would be far easier to manage the sober ones. And if the Club owners continue to think like the Taxi drivers of old with reference to their licence, then it’s time for a sharp course of education.
    Further, it’s time that the licencing is removed from Justice and given to the local councils. Where anyone could apply to set up whatever sort of establishment they see fit. And not the ludicrous situation where isolated country pubs are closing with the Licence sold so that a new place could open in the Cities.


    • Sorry Vincent, coming back to this late. You absolutely cannot compare alcohol abuse with excessive sugar eating. Nobody causes traffic accidents because they have eaten too much sugar, nor beat their partner or children… The social issues involved are wholly different!

      • Vincent Says:

        Of course I can. Alcohol IS a sugar.
        But that isn’t my point. I entered that one because your point is even less of a runner.
        And anyway, abuse is a far to active term.

        Central, we have an attitude to Alcohol on these islands that treats it as if it’s a mountain to climb and conquer. And the reality is that Alcohol will win always.
        So from this point of view one cannot use the connections that are being made by those in control. Which defines someone that has absorbed alcohol which would deny their driving as having sufficient control over themselves to halt consumption having imbibed another number.

        Progressive levels of consumption will have as a result women holding themselves up one handed on main streets with men blinded and walking against traffic. And both willing to fight with their own shadow.
        So to my mind when it is known officially that A results in B, it’s a bit rich expecting another outcome. And Taxing it or making it scarce isn’t going to change B.

  4. Jilly Says:

    I was an undergraduate in the UK in the late 80s, and we didn’t consider an evening a success unless we were extremely drunk. There was also a lot of competitive drinking, especially (but not exclusively) among the men.

    So whatever else we can say about student drinking, I don’t think we can say that it’s something new.

  5. copernicus Says:

    Ofcourse we know about the notoriety of English football (soccer), and the reports about town centres in England taken over by drunken yobs on Friday and Saturday evenings. Cheap Supermarket drinks are often blamed.

    The borough where I live has a large number of student population as we have two universities in the borough and two others are at a walking distance. Just a few days ago, there was a street march by university students, and a few students were distributing the leaflets to the public. I was standing with two elderly ladies to cross the road and when the student rep came to distribute the leaflet, one of the ladies asked him what the march was all about. The student replied ” for no university tuition fees”. The lady quickly said, ” I am not paying you more of my tax money to get drunk”, and said to us how she has to call the police often when her next door flat complex rented by students becomes very noisy and drunken students often sit near her door getting very sick, how her garden is littered with empty beer cans during the week ends.

    Early 1980s was not bad. Aberdeen used to be a quiet place both in RGIT and U of Aberdeen digs premises.

  6. Fred Says:

    I agree with you Ferdinand in the price of alcohol issue and probably it could be good if the higher prices could go in favor of tax. Drinking is a trend now and althought it is not a new issue, it is certainly worse than few years or decades ago.

  7. Al Says:

    Higher Education isnt providing leadership here…
    While there may be regulatory output in alcohol policies, etc etc,, little leadership.

    There isnt a challenge to the powers that be, the alco industry with its sponsorship powers along with the concerns of local politicians representing these interests.

    If there was an introduction to alcohol course for 1st years where the different types could be introduced and actually tasted, a psychological and physiological explanation of the use of alcohol, and an outline of the pathologies of alcohol.

    Now that would take courage…
    A Symposium, if you will…
    A symposium, if you will….

    • copernicus Says:

      @Al. My friend a consultant physician in the accident and emergency unit of a large teaching hospital hee in London says that nearly 70% of the patients who show up there are either drunk, brought in with injuries sustained in the street after a drink bout or seriously ill with alcoholic effects..
      A majority of them are students, and he even recognised one of his own students in medical school ! HE leadership? These are adults, and educated and should know the problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption. There was a recent report in the Lancet journal (the prestigious medical journal published in the UK, like the New England Journal of Medicine in the US), about alcohol, and its constant excessive has effects worse than a few classified drugs. But there was protest from the alcohol industry…

  8. Iainmacl Says:

    Funnily enough this is a current issue in scotland where the minority government, backed by health agencies, charities and many other civic groups planned to introduce a minimum charge per unit of alcohol (45 p) to tackle the cheap booze available in supermarkets and other outlets. The opposition ( parties of which receive funds from supermarket bosses – that’s irrelevant i’m sure, but the kind of thing people drop into blog post comments to stir trouble i believe!) opposed it however and so it was unable to be passed. The irony is there have been mutterings at Westminster by uk politicians that minimum pricing shoudl be considered..meanwhile alcohol continues to blight many lives in that country and not just those of students.

  9. Eileen Says:

    I dont think that increasing the price of alcohol further in this country will make any difference with excessive drinking among young people. Its already more expensive than other countries and that has just made more people drink more at home before they go out to try to save money.
    In countries like Spain, alcohol is half the price of in Ireland, and young people there generally have a much healthier attitude towards drinking than here.
    Its the psychological side of Irelands drinking culture that needs to be dealt with, which is much more complicated than just hiking prices again.

  10. Victor Says:

    It would be useful to have an economic analysis of the medical, social and productivity costs of binge drinking in Ireland.

    Public drunks could be prosecuted and charged for the costs

    Repeat offenders— 3 strikes– could be fitted with alcohol monitoring ankle devices at their own cost for from 3 months to 1 year—this is a practice in the US.

    Public figures — politicians-bankers- radio personalities- etc should lose their jobs for public intoxication above .08

    It really harms the Irish ” brand ” to have a reputation of a nation of drunks in the 21 Century.

  11. anna notaro Says:

    Students’s drinking habits: this is another of such cases when universities reveal themselves to be mirror (occasionally distorted) images of the societies they reflect… Not sure the dangers of alcohol should fall under our teaching remit – I trust that won’t be amongst the most popular of modules🙂 Jokes apart, even after 20 years spent in the UK I still feel uneasy and sad at the sight of so many drunk young people on a typical week end night out, but then I notice the presence of so many more ‘mature’individuals, ‘enjoying’ themselves in the same manner and all becomes clear!

  12. Victor Says:

    Student drinking is both a social/ legal problem and a public health problem.
    A greater public health problem among is smoking–Ireland has an increasing smoking rate now around 33%
    Yet it has very high tax rates for fags.

    In Utah the smoking rate is 10% and in Stanford University in California it is less than 3%.

    These low rates were achieved not by tax but by making smokers pariahs and limiting sales and public use.

    Ireland has the highest use of anti-depressants in Europe—in the old days people argued that selective emigration had weakened Irish the gene pool — thus the very rates of schizophrenia—that is hardly valid over the last 20 years.

    Are the Irish smoking and drunkenness a form self medication?
    I doubt it– in China for example 60% of doctors smoke in the US 2% smoke—it seems to be a matter of making such people pariahs.


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