Binge Drinking: After I split from my lover, I started drinking every day
As studies show young Irish people are among the biggest binge drinkers in Europe, Chrissie Russell meets people who stepped back from the brink -- and now help others in need
Alcohol abuse in Ireland is becoming increasingly common with young men and women. Studies show that young Irish people are among the worst offenders in Europe for binge drinking.
A report on the Misuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs released by the Oireachtas last month showed that between 2005 and 2008, 4,129 people under 30 were discharged from hospital with chronic diseases or conditions related to alcohol.
One in four people attending A&E has alcohol-related injures, and half of those are under 30. The amount of people between 15 and 34 years of age dealing with liver disease has almost tripled over the past decade and an increasing number of teenage girls are being discharged from hospital with alcohol-related complaints.
It's believed more than half of all drinkers in Ireland are drinking at hazardous levels -- but few would say they had a problem.
There are several issues feeding into the current trend for excessive drinking. Socially, thanks to cultural changes in the status of women and the way drinking is treated on television, drinking and drunkenness has been largely de-stigmatised.
The availability of alcohol at grocery stores and in supermarkets, the drop in prices and the way in which drinks are marketed have broadened its appeal and accessibility.
But Ireland has a very particular problem with alcohol, which Roisin Shortall, Minister of State with Responsibility for Primary Care, recently highlighted.
"We have an unhealthy relationship with drink and it is clearly a cultural issue," she said.
"We turn to alcohol very easily -- whether to drown our sorrows or to celebrate."
Donal Kiernan, of the Irish Association of Alcohol and Addiction Counsellors, agrees. "We have, through our public discourse, promoted the image of the drunken Irish," he says. "We've extolled the virtues of well-known actors and singers who drink to excess and our politicians appear in the press holding a pint.
"There's a frightening tolerance for abusive drinking behaviour, and a collective denial of the actual harm caused by alcohol."
This national attitude makes it harder for people to realise they have a problem, or ask for help.
Kiernan explains: "Often people don't realise that they have a problem as the circles of social activity are drink orientated.
"They don't want to ask themselves difficult questions like: 'Do I reward myself with alcohol? Do I feel the need to drink frequently? Do I avoid open discussion about the affects of alcohol? Am I afraid to quit?'"
If you have to ask the questions, you probably have a problem but at least you're addressing it.
Sadly, denial and rationalisations such as "I don't drink as much as some people" or "I only drink when . . ." often stand in the way of taking this important step.
Businessman Andrew O'Loughlin (40) from Skerries, Co Dublin, is a recovering alcoholic. Throughout his 20s and 30s he dressed in sharp suits, meeting business colleagues in fine restaurants and bars, and was rarely without a glass of wine or pint of Guinness in his hand.
One morning he woke up in Heathrow airport with no memory of getting there. He later learned he'd taken a taxi from a golf club in Galway and boarded a Dublin flight to London while drunk.
He says: "Being a big drinker is almost seen as a badge of honour. It's 'great fun' to go out and get 'absolutely blotto'.
"I remember being in a taxi in New York, and the driver said 'you Irish guys are the best drinkers in the world', and it made me proud. But what is there to be proud of?"
Andrew sought treatment on his 35th birthday. His marriage had ended and he felt suicidal. He was admitted to a six-week rehab programme at Dublin's Rutland Centre where, through counselling, he understood his drinking had been his way of coping with a childhood trauma.
In 2009, the dad-of-two launched Sober Holidays, a villa abroad for recovering alcoholics, and recently he set up The Irish Men's Group for men dealing with depression.
He says: "It's frustrating how little education there is and how little support for people who might have a problem, not only with alcohol but with anything.
"A lot of guys in particular feel like they can't talk about their problems, so they drink. There's a huge link between depression, alcohol and suicide but very little support out there."
The jury is still out on why one person will become an alcoholic and another not. Using alcohol as a means of escapism is common and anyone can be affected.
'I had no idea at 17 or 18 that I would end up an alcoholic," says Andrew.
"I thought an alcoholic was the guy passed out on the park bench but I was smart, had money, a great job and it just crept up on me."
Mum-of-one Marie (not her real name) believes she was born an alcoholic.
She says: "I have an addictive personality. Alcoholism isn't a drinking disease, it's a thinking disease. It could have been gambling or shopping or food, but for me it was alcohol."
Drinking since she was nine, Marie finally became sober at 32 after joining AA. Now 52, she still attends meetings.
Marie says: "I see people coming in now who are 19, 20 and 21. I sponsor a girl who is 22.
"But they're the lucky ones. They've realised they have a problem and come looking for help, they're not going to waste years like I did."