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Sunday 18 March 2018

We need to examine the way we talk to children about alcohol - Alison

WARNING: Alison Canavan says children should be educated early. Photo: Gerry Mooney
WARNING: Alison Canavan says children should be educated early. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Celebrate your results or drown your sorrows. That's the message from some drink promotion companies as Ireland's Leaving Cert students prepare to tear open the envelopes on Wednesday that will set them on the road to their future dreams.

Social media is being used to advertise €3 drinks, 'Vodka Boats', free shots, and handfuls of drinks tokens for pints, bottles and Jagerbombs.

And with only days until parents nervously wave their teens out the door, alcohol addiction campaigner Alison Canavan says a pre-disco conversation, rather than a lecture, will afford a last chance to discuss the dangers of alcohol.

Alison warns that these conversations need to start with children in primary school, so Ireland's young develop a healthy attitude towards alcohol long before the disco lights come on.

"The problem isn't alcohol. The problem lies in our relationship with alcohol and how life revolves around it as a national pastime," she says.

"The Leaving Cert is just another excuse to drink. That's why it's not about talking to children when they are ready to go out to a disco. We need to talk about it from an early age. My son James is only six and I have conversations with him regularly - when he asks why everyone at the table is having a glass of wine and mummy isn't or why I am driving to a wedding. Children aren't stupid, they see things with their own eyes and we need to leave the lines of conversation consistently open."

Alison (39) says teen discos supplied her first taste of alcohol at age 15 - just before she shot to fame as a model.

"I have to laugh when people say: 'Oh God, the fashion industry must have been awful.' No, my drinking started in Ireland with my peers at teen discos. I was just experimenting and seeing how it feels. I don't think anyone starts out with an issue - the issues come down the line when we use alcohol to mask our feelings of low self-esteem."

She says her raw, first-hand account of her addiction and recovery in the Sunday Independent's Life magazine led to an outpouring from around the country: "I get hundreds of emails and letters from people now. Some come up to me in coffee shops and on the street. From 18-year-old students to mothers, all very successful people.

"Everyone who contacts me technically has their sh*t together 'on paper'," she says.

"There isn't anyone who you would think has a drink problem, just by looking at their lives."

Alison, who has been in recovery for three years, is open about the challenges she faces and says she attended her first wedding recently since breaking free from her unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

"It was an incredible wedding and I had a fantastic time but, for me personally, some parts I found difficult.

"The first day everyone went to the bar for a drink and I just went off and did my own thing and then at dinner everyone was drinking and the time between courses was quite long and I felt a bit left out. But it's important to remember these are all my own feelings. Nobody made me feel like that. So I went off afterwards and, once I put James to bed, I sat on the beach and shed a few tears and then I felt much better.

"The important thing was I allowed myself to feel. I would never have allowed myself to feel before. I asked myself: do I want to drink? And I just knew instantly I will never go back there. Alcohol took too much from me."

Alison's health and wellbeing event, The Full 360 Series, will take place on Saturday, September 17, at the Radisson Blu, Golden Lane, Dublin, from 11am-7pm. For more information see

Sunday Independent

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