Friday 28 October 2016

Editorial: Onus on adults to change our drinking culture

Published 01/04/2014 | 02:30

"The majority of Irish people have a drink as a social lubricant – it allows them to enjoy good company, good music and to celebrate special occasions."

This is Alcohol Awareness Week, a week when we reflect on our often difficult love affair with 'the drink'. While alcohol consumption is actually dropping as a whole, there is little doubt that virtually all aspects of modern Irish culture are bound up with alcohol, everything from a First Holy Communion ceremony to a football match to the visit of a foreign head of state.

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There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. The majority of Irish people have a drink as a social lubricant – it allows them to enjoy good company, good music and to celebrate special occasions.

But it is one thing for mature adults to enjoy a few drinks, quite another to see teenagers staggering around the streets absolutely stocious after 'prinks' – the practice of having 'pre-drinks' in somebody's home before going out to a nightclub.

According to a My World/UCD/Headstrong study, a third of Leaving Certificate students are drinking to problem levels and 6pc of them are classified as 'alcohol dependent' by the age of 17.

This followed previous research by Amarach, which found that underage drinking is commonplace, with 25pc of 16-17 year olds saying they drank at least once a week, with 30pc of them drinking at home.

One of the worrying features of teenage drinking is the amount of spirits young people, especially girls, consume. This is bound up not in any enjoyment of a drink, but is often dictated by body image and a desire to emulate their peers.

But, as with other aspects in life, the behaviour of children, and even of teenagers, often mirrors the behaviour and attitudes of the adults around them. Naturally enough, when they see their parents and friends drinking, and drinking to excess, they may naturally believe it is acceptable for them also, even though they may be too immature to handle it.

"Parents and adults may be unwittingly leading young people into problematic drinking and the risk of addiction because of our acceptances of alcohol as part of the family, as something you do," says chief executive of Aiseiri Paul Conlon.

He added that many parents, believing that their children were going to drink alcohol, encouraged them to drink in a family setting, hoping it would moderate their behaviour and might introduce 'continental' values to their children.

While that may be commendable, we have to recognise that we are not 'continental' and are never likely to be. Young people are regarded, quite rightly, as the ones who changed the Irish 'drink driving' culture – because they refused to emulate adults in this behaviour.

Maybe it is now time for older generations to repay teenagers and make it the norm to drink moderately and not have alcohol permeate every aspect of our lifestyle.

Irish Independent

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