Wednesday 26 November 2014

Editorial: Our fatal attraction to alcohol exposed again

Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30

A third of men and more than a fifth of women who drink are downing more than is recommended by health chiefs, a survey shows
A third of men and more than a fifth of women who drink are downing more than is recommended by health chiefs, a survey shows

It is probably true to say that as a people, the Irish have a strange, and probably dysfunctional, relationship with alcohol, or as it's more colloquially known, 'the drink.' We celebrate it in songs and writing and we have exported the Irish pub to the most remote outposts of civilisation. From baptism to burial, from sunny summer days to gloomy winter evenings, from state occasions to the hard concrete of a city back alley, all, along with any other excuse, are occasions for us to break out the alcohol.

In fact, no celebration is considered complete without it. So we should not be terribly surprised that, apart from the estimated 20pc of the population who don't indulge, the rest of us are binge drinking our way towards alcohol dependence on an enormous scale. The two most worrying findings in a new report from the Health Research Board, which interviewed more than 6,000 people on Irish attitudes and consumption of alcohol, is that most of us are in denial about binge drinking.

The study also reveals that binge drinking, harmful drinking and dependent drinking are all at their highest in the 18-24 age group, with 75pc of that cohort identified as engaging in harmful drinking. The definition of 'binge' drinking varies, but the World Health Organisation puts it as six standard drinks on the same occasions. That is the equivalent of three pints (or three glasses of wine) – and it is unlikely that many regular Irish drinkers would agree that this constitutes a 'binge', in fact many would regard three pints as a prelude to some serious drinking.

But while we can argue about definitions, the fact is that drinking alcohol can and does occupy an inordinate amount of our time and energy. "The report shows people who defined themselves as 'light or moderate drinkers' actually drank six or more standard drinks in a typical drinking occasion, which is binge drinking," said one of its authors, Dr Jean Long.

The shift away from the pubs to drinking at home, or drinking as a prelude to going out, has normalised the use of alcohol as part of everyday life, compared to previous generations when many seasoned pub drinkers wouldn't dream of even keeping alcohol in their homes. Maybe in time we will become more continental in our attitudes, but that is not a short-term solution.

As with drink driving, it would seem that the best way to educate the population would be to start with younger people and hope that they can be taught to drink in a more social and responsible way and this in turn might have a moderating influence on the drinking patterns of the older generation.

Irish Independent

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