Posted tagged ‘drinking problem’

The alcohol problem

November 7, 2010

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.

A drinking culture

September 14, 2008

It’s Sunday morning. And every Sunday morning, were you to take a walk in Albert College Park next door to the DCU campus, you would see it was the morning after the night before. Every Sunday morning, throughout the year, you will find empty beer cans, vodka bottles, whiskey and other spirits scattered around the park, with a particular concentration in the children’s playground next to the campus. Every Saturday night this is the meeting place for a significant number of local young people, and what they primarily appear to do is to drink. Seeing them every so often, the average age is perhaps 17.

Albert College Park is not some horrible exception to the rule – the scene is replicated all over Dublin, and I am sure, beyond. And it tells us something pretty bad about the society we have allowed to emerge, and are doing very little to contain. It is not just that these young people are drinking to excess, but also that as they do so they are likely to terrorise the local residents.

But before anyone gets all high and mighty about these youthful miscreants, just ask about where they are getting the impetus. All over Dublin, and all over Ireland, people of all ages are doing what they regard as important – they drink. And I don’t mean that they sip a glass of wine; they drink pint after pint of beer, or shots of spirits. And eventually they leave and off-load the consequences of all this on society.

We have to come face to face with reality: as a country, we have a serious drink problem. We are being talked about, not just here, but elsewhere in the world, as this article in the New York Times shows. It is a problem with serious consequences for all of us, as we have to deal with the medical issues, the destruction of property in drink-fuelled rages, dangerous driving on the roads, the terrorising of innocent citizens. And we have to face the reality that, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, we are doing absolutely nothing about this.

And through a mixture of cause and effect of this drinking epidemic, we are losing the concept of society. As we drink, society disintegrates, and as it disintegrates we drink more. It may be that we think we are having fun in drinking groups – but fun isn’t worth much if you can’t remember it in the morning. Instead, the drunken stupor is robbing society of genuine social interaction.

This can’t go on. It is just too destructive. And sooner or later, someone has to be brave enough to do something about it.