Life Health & Wellbeing

Wednesday 22 January 2020

'A bad hangover used to be my favourite accessory' - our changing relationship with alcohol

Our top writers including Niamh Horan, Stefanie Preissner and Joanne McNally discuss their relationship with alcohol

Emily Houricane. Photo: Kip Carroll
Emily Houricane. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll
Joanne McNally. Photo: Kip Carroll

At a time where many of us may be feeling the effects of over-indulgence, five of our top writers speak candidly about their relationship with drink...

Emily Hourican:

I am the child of a mixed marriage. My mother doesn't drink at all, and never has; my father drank like most Irishmen of his generation: in a way that seems excessive now, but was within the bounds of 'normal' back then.

My mother may not have drunk alcohol, but she was tolerant of drink. She encouraged it in others. Even in us, when we were relatively young. A half-glass of wine with Sunday lunch was very much the thing from the time I was about 14 onwards. I remember a gin and tonic on Christmas morning after Mass when I was 15.

The theory was that this kind of drinking would act as an inoculation, protect me from the bad kind: bottles of cheap, sticky, sweet stuff bought on the sly and consumed in bus shelters and round the back of the school disco.

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The inoculation didn't work. I drank the civilised glass of wine at home, and a bottle of Martini Bianco on the bus on the way to the school disco. I was 14 and yes, I was That Girl. The one reeling through the car park at picking-up time, so blindingly and blatantly paralytic that the women who ratted me out to my mother told me, years and years later, "I really felt I couldn't not".

That was it for me and booze for quite a long time. I got to UCD with a very modest habit indeed - a gap year spent in Florence, Italy, taught me that 'nice' girls didn't drink. They had a small glass of wine, then went for an ice cream.

In UCD, though, nice girls did drink. Fun ones did, anyway. And so I drank. Those were the wild years. There were quite a lot of them. I drank, merrily, through college and much of my 20s. I got more discerning - no more Martini Bianco, and I've never been a fan of beer (it's a volume-versus-alcohol thing: so much, for so little). Instead I drank wine; whiskey; gin; Bloody Marys; frozen vodka (neat, never with mixers); brandy in balloon glasses.

Everything, back then, came with booze. Nights out, obviously, but everything else, too. A lovely mountain walk? Finish with a whiskey by the fire of some thatched pub. A trip to Tesco? Break it up with a quick G&T en route. Bad hangover? Brunch, and Bloody Marys. Hot chocolate? Add a dash of rum. Under the weather? Have a hot port. Not sure if you even want a drink? Try a brandy and ginger ale.

I drank through fun times and terrible times. I drowned many sorrows and toasted many successes. I went to work with hangovers; I turned up late and theatrically 'dying' to weddings, christenings, family lunches. A bad hangover was pretty much my favourite accessory, along with smudged eyeliner and boasts of, "I only got three hours sleep".

And yet, it was only every temporary, all this posturing with Pinot Grigio.

Because as strong, stronger even, than my father's example of excess, was my mother's abstention. It waited in the wings, dormant for many years, while I ran my course with the other version. And then, somewhere around age 27, it stepped forward and took over, neatly and completely. I began to drink less. A lot less. The hangovers, by then, had become a problem. I was sick of missing out on so many days because I was exhausted. I had a job I loved and wanted to do well, and I began to realise how incompatible that was with being constantly in recovery from a night out.

I stopped going out in the way I had been. I stopped drinking in the way I had been. But, I carried on with the 'civilised' couple of glasses of wine every night, for ages. Getting pregnant, when I was 29, put an end to that, and somehow, it never picked up again. First, I was pregnant, then breastfeeding, then pregnant again, more breastfeeding; pregnant for the third time. By the time I stopped breastfeeding the last, I no longer had the habit of drinking at all. It had become something purely social, and, with an intermittent social life thanks to small kids, weeks would go by without a drop.

I didn't miss it. Not at all. In fact, I confess that I became secretly quite judgey about other people's drinking habits. For a while, I contemplated giving up entirely. Except it didn't seem worth it when there was so little left to renounce. And there were occasions when I remembered what fun it could be. The odd Margarita, a shot of ice-cold vodka, or glass of Champagne.

And, always, the knowledge that, in times of trouble, a glass of good red wine was the most reliable weapon in my armoury. At the end of a bad day, something stressful or traumatic, when I felt unhappy, agitated, out of sorts with myself or, as a reward for something difficult, done well (a 10k run, say; or a tricky bit of public speaking that I had been nervous about), a glass of wine was my way to celebrate, and recalibrate.

I didn't abuse the system - this was emergency-only stuff; one glass, rarely two - but it was wonderful to know it was there; that I had a fail-safe, should I need one.

About a year ago, I began to contemplate a time when I might begin to drink more. Not lots more, obviously, but a little. The children are older; I no longer have to get up with them at night or early in the morning. I am not, generally, as exhausted as I was back in the days when I did have to do those things. I have more (a little more) free time. Perhaps, I thought, I'll be like the late Queen Mother, and settle down to a dry martini every day at 4pm?

Probably, I never would have actually done so - puritanical habits die hard - but it was a pleasant piece of contemplation. And then, last Christmas, my body played a truly unexpected and sly trick on me.

The first time it happened, I thought I was having a heart attack. The second time, I decided it must be a panic attack. How else to explain the sudden, horrible racing, thumping, bumping of my heart, so loud I thought I could hear it outside my body? It happened when I went to bed, or at least that's when I noticed it. I had to sit back up and turn on the light. I put a hand to my chest, wondering at what point I'd better call an ambulance. Thump, bump, crash, thud. It is one of the most unpleasant experiences I've had. It subsided, eventually, after keeping me awake for hours, and I dismissed it as 'whatever.' And then it happened again. Very soon, a pattern emerged, and alcohol was the culprit.

So just exactly at the moment when I was contemplating a renewed and deepened relationship with alcohol, it has abandoned me. Now, instead of having a soothing, soporific effect, a single glass of wine acts like a line of speed. It is wildly stimulating, giving me a burst of energy that is great at the time, but, when my heart is still racing three or four hours later, making it impossible to sleep, the benefits do not seem that compelling.

It's hardly a bereavement, I get that. In fact, frankly, it's probably a good thing - the jury seems less 'out' on the health effects of alcohol than it used to be, with mounting evidence that it is not A Really Good Thing for any of us - also, I have one teenager and two soon-to-be teens in the house; perhaps it's a good moment for the generational abstemious role-model to make an appearance. And yet, I'm sorry. Sorry that one of life's great reliables has been taken from me. Discombobulated, that one of my certainties has been overturned (after all, if that can happen, what the hell else is waiting?). And a tiny bit bereft. Maybe it will come back around. Maybe I'll get to be the Queen Mother after all, sometime in my 60s. But right now, it is not so much that I have foresworn alcohol, as it has foresworn me. It has dumped me unceremoniously, and even though I wasn't that attached to the relationship, I wasn't ready to let go completely.

Alcohol was a friend with benefits, never a soulmate. But still.

Niamh Horan:

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Niamh Horan. Photo: Kip Carroll

The very first encounter I had with alcohol came through a friend I used to go out clubbing with. She was absolutely beautiful. Platinum-blonde hair, big brown saucers for eyes, and a body like an old-fashioned Coke bottle.

The boys loved her; the girls purred close to soak up whatever social currency she emanated, and I quickly discovered that she was the best wing-woman I could ever ask for.

On Friday nights, we would sit in front of her mirror, slowly building our physical armour. We would steam our hair into poker-straight lines, and I would watch as my friend smeared blood-red rouge on her bee-stung lips - long before lip injections were invented.

After our physical transformation, I was ready for the bar. But my friend needed a little extra. She told me she couldn't walk into the place without having a drink first.

She turned every head once she stepped through those doors - but it didn't matter what came next or what anyone said. Or how good they tried to make her feel. It was something on the inside.

And so it sat on her vanity table, the glass of Dutch courage. As vital a part of her make-up routine as the brushes and perfume.

It was my first inkling of the power of alcohol. But it would be years until I realised it wasn't the problem in this situation. It was the 'solution'. My friend's real problem was fear. The drink was just what she used to cope.

My own long journey started on my 18th birthday. I didn't drink until then because of a pledge I took for my Confirmation. That night, I raised a glass of Champagne with my parents, and for the first time in my life, I felt like an adult.

From there, it was pubs at weekends, followed by a nightclub until 3am. Tia Maria and milk tasted like a chocolate milkshake, and it was just something to keep my hands busy. My main attention was focused on boys and dancing. Drink was something that helped the process along. It gave me a nice buzz, but never really took over in a way that I had to have it there.

Looking back now, I think staying sober during my teenage years - until I was 18, at least - saved me from a lot, in what is a particularly vulnerable time for most people (one-in-four Irish teenagers report having their first drink at 13). I didn't know it then, but I had so many little insecurities that the mix of spirits and self-doubt would have been more lethal than any concoction I could have found behind a bar.

And if I am being honest, those feelings never really went away.

Gradually over the years, I realised I was using drink every so often to ward off uncomfortable feelings - just like my friend.

On a date, a glass of wine could give me confidence, or ease me a little better into conversation.

After a busy week, I could use it over dinner with a friend to destress.

There were many blow-outs in my 20s. Like the time I was the only one who dressed up as a prostitute for a 'pirates and prostitutes' house party (when I turned up, everyone else was some version of Long John Silver) and so I proceeded to do the most instinctive thing I knew at the time to deal with the social awkwardness: drink straight rum at a speed that would have made Blackbeard proud.

Perhaps it's for my own good that I don't remember the rest.

By the time cocaine flooded the scene - and it is back with a vengeance - I was done with wanting to get out of my head.

I started drinking less and, by default, that meant me being around people who were drinking more. Hearing the drivel that is spouted after more drink than people can handle has been consumed, was a reality check.

How many times that had been me.

And I saw how cocaine makes things worse. The greatest unofficial PR stunt ever pulled is the perpetuation of the myth that it keeps you sober. Over a few hours, it turns people into motormouths, speaking the same nonsense as those who are drunk - except their monologues are speeded up. By the night's end, they sound like they're speaking in tongues.

But back to booze - when it came down to it, I didn't want to overdo it any more. And for me, 'overdoing' it simply meant drinking too much and for the wrong reasons.

It wasn't until my 30s that I met someone who gave me good advice for managing alcohol.

She said: "Check your motive."

I began to watch how I was feeling before reaching for a glass of wine.

I realised there is a difference between the drink you have because you enjoy the taste, or because it makes a good accompaniment to a meal, and the drink you pick up to still your nerves. And it's a very fine line in between.

It turned out that the 'right' kind of drink only came around once every few weeks at most. And on those occasions, one or two glasses over the course of an evening would suffice.

These days, I now look for the right reason to drink and the right context.

Here's what I learned did not fall under that heading: the glass of wine on my own in front of the TV; drinking on an empty stomach; drinking too quickly; drinking if I was in any way not in good form; drinking without having water to pace myself; and, most importantly for me, drinking - like my friend once did - for Dutch courage, or to numb out any feelings underneath.

In facing all the wrong ways I used to drink, I can now more thoroughly enjoy the good moments to have a glass of something nice.

Not to sound like a budding Jancis Robinson - my wine knowledge is incredibly sparse - but I also found in my 30s that learning about wines, or at least hanging out with people who could show me a thing or two about a good region and pairing, helped me appreciate drinking more for pleasure than anything else.

And still, when I close my eyes and think about the nicest glass I've ever had, I can't tell you the year or region. But I can still feel the sun shining on my face, the sea salt in my hair, what music was playing, the bikini I was wearing, and exactly who I was with.

I've learned that alcohol taken in the right way is like good background music. It is the backdrop to a nice evening; a subtle presence rather than an overbearing one. It helps set a positive vibe. But good company and real connection should always be the main event. Even if you are sitting in silence, enjoying the moment. Without that in mind, it doesn't matter what label is on the bottle or how much you take to make up for what's going on inside; you're drowning out what could have been a good memory with poison.

We don't have to be addicted to something to want to change our behaviour around it.

Human beings - as frail as we are - have a tendency to misuse anything that can temporarily make us feel better.

I think when we talk about 'unhealthy drinking' we typically take the definition to the extreme.

But what I found is that the truth is usually a lot subtler than that.

Stefanie Preissner

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Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll

I wake up. My eyes are stuck together with the glue from false eyelashes, sleep, and probably tears. The pillowcase looks like a child has learned graffiti. My hand is stamped with ink from three different nightclubs, and there's an unchewed kebab in my mouth. I lean out of the bed and spit it out, noticing that I clearly did the same thing last night. The small movement of leaning out of the bed has poked the bear - the bear being a hangover. I will not recover from this for three days.

I'm chuffed with myself for waking up in my own bed because my standards for what constitutes a good, safe night of drinking have plummeted so low that I can achieve them by simply waking up at home alone.

This is what weekends used to look like when I drank alcohol. It wasn't that everyone else was up at 6am on a Sunday, jogging through the park before sitting down to brunch. Some of my friends were in a similar state. Half-humans wrapped in duvets scattered across Dublin, united by the telltale wrist stamp that was often the only memory of where the night had taken us.

If we had all managed to not lose our phones, the texts would start in the afternoon. The hive mind of the group would piece together the night, until we came to the last person's blackout, and the story would disappear in a flurry of laughing-crying-face emojis.

The laughing-crying face was perfect for how I felt about that time. I laughed about it at the time, but I was desperately unhappy. Nothing about the nights was enjoyable. My feet were sore, my bank account was depleted, my friendships were bruised and my self-respect was the price I paid for entry to the club.

We're taught from very young that drinking is cool, fun, and what you have to do to be social as an adult. It takes effort on your part to learn for yourself that it's not. The difficult part about identifying that I drank too much was that I was hanging out with other people who were also drinking too much - that was a form of preservation for the behaviour. When everyone is doing something, it's hard to identify it as dysfunctional.

For the first few years, I even had my friends to go through the hangovers with. We were like people who get closer by experiencing trauma together. We'd hole up in someone's bed, order a week's wages' worth of carbohydrates, and deconstruct the night in gentle tones so as not to trigger headaches or worse. We live in a world that offers bottomless cocktails at brunch, and happy hour and ladies' nights. We drink to 'unwind' and to 'relax' - this is the way alcohol has been marketed to us. It's nearly impossible to call out binge-drinking when it's part of our cultural identity. There are too many people benefitting from it for anyone to put their hand up and call last orders.

I cannot tell you enough how much I do not miss those nights. And yet, when I tell people I don't drink any more, and that I don't go clubbing, they tilt their head at me and search for a reason.

Am I pregnant? Am I on antibiotics? Am I an alcoholic?

They'd down a triple whiskey before they'll accept my triple 'no'.

Irish people will do anything to protect their relationship with drink. We defend it, we laugh off criminal behaviour as 'the crack'. We call people 'dry balls' or 'dry shites' if they try to highlight the dysfunction of drinking until your amygdala shuts off and you have no impulse control. Falling over, starting fights, losing your memory, losing your belongings, getting sick or wetting yourself are not normal side effects of normal drinking.

And yet every time I say I don't drink, people need to label me to distance my conclusion of my drinking from theirs. I wasn't drinking in the morning. I wasn't drinking on my own. I wasn't hiding empty bottles around my house. I wasn't even drinking every week, not to mind every day. But I still noticed the impact alcohol was having on my life, and have seen the benefits of giving it up. I was sober curious.

I've ruined pillows, clothes, carpets and other people's handbags. I've spent the cost of a sun holiday in a single night. I've taken copious painkillers to make Sunday hangovers bearable. I've learned that there is nothing casual about casually drinking more than five pints in a night.

Five pints! I hear you scoff. That's the issue. Irish people seem to feel proud of how much they can drink. There's a social currency when someone can 'hold their drink' and not be seen as 'a lightweight'.

Look, if the statistics about how many young women are presenting to doctors with liver damage or any of the other awful health statistics aren't enough to convince you, then an article in a Sunday paper won't either. Many of you might even be reading this with a hangover. It's no bubbles out of my sparkling water what you do with your life - I just wanted to share for anyone who might find it helpful that there is a brilliant life on the other side of Scotch. If you're sober curious, there are many of us out here.

It's not all sunshine and sparkling water on this side, though. It's tough to be sober in a world that wants you drunk. Sober people are threatened by you. People want to label you alcoholic, pregnant or contagious. The worst part of being sober though, is being around drunk people. They think they're hilarious.

In fact, they are loud, smelly, tedious, and repetitive beyond tolerability. I don't attend most events where people get drunk now, because seeing people you want to like getting drunk makes it impossible. I'd have to be drunk to tolerate those events, and I don't want to be drunk, so I opt out. It means that there are things I would like to attend, but the cost to me is too much.

Sometimes I miss the ease with which I could achieve oblivion with alcohol. Sitting next to annoying people at parties or events is much easier when you can get sloshed. Dealing with grief, sadness or anger is all much less effort with alcohol, but that kind of avoidance has never served me, really. I drank because I could. I drank because everyone else was. I drank because I was uncomfortable in myself and in the company I was with. I drank because I thought there was nothing else to do. I drank because I thought people liked me better drunk. And maybe they did.

Being sober hasn't fixed those insecurities. It's a slow process, but at least now, I act, I remember everything I say to people, I behave intentionally, and if people want me at an event, I can be sure they want me for me, and I won't ruin any special occasions for anyone. Because, while I found drinking 'relaxing', it was not relaxing for anyone around me who was sober enough to notice.

Just give it some thought. For lots of you, it won't be a problem at all. But for others, those of you who have ever woken up and not known where you are, or who have singled out one type of alcohol and sworn off it, those of you who've told yourself you're not drinking on a night and not been able to follow through on the commitment - maybe now's the time to make a change. Not drinking for a while wouldn't be a problem for someone who wasn't dependent on it.

Donal Lynch:

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Donal Lynch. Photo: Kip Carroll

Drink was another of those things, like women and rugby, that I didn't get in the same way other boys did. At the start, I took it reluctantly, as a kind of medicine that made teenage discos bearable. But that was its sole purpose. I never once drank at home. I found the taste nauseating. I wanted something sweet and carbonated - I'm the target market you can thank for alcopops being invented in the mid 1990s. They got me through many a slow set.

Alcohol didn't seem to have the same effect on me that it had on other people. It didn't make me particularly disinhibited, and I didn't feel like it really relaxed me - I never understood why someone who got a shock would be given a glass of whiskey. It was just something you piled into yourself to get through a big social event - something to blame whatever you did on; a kind of exemption clause that everyone signed up to.

I had a particular horror of people who kept going through their hangovers. Even when I was 21, I was constitutionally unable for hair of the dog. Bloody Marys are my kryptonite. Boozy lads' holidays terrified me. In my student years, I also thought alcohol was quite an old-fashioned thing to be obsessed with. You're Irish and love your gargle - so original.

While girls and rugby remained mysterious, in my 20s, I slowly began to see what all the fuss was about regarding drink. I'd love to say it was a wine-appreciation course or my maturing palate, but I think it might have been the headiness of my first free bar at work that kickstarted me. It whetted my appetite for cheap cocktails, and I threw myself into weeknight drinking with gusto.

Anyone in their first few years of work can still tell you where all the student nights happen, and I learned that if people are out on a Tuesday, you know they mean business. I was able then for a backbreaking schedule of rounds and the dreadful whiff that suddenly became apparent after the smoking ban. And I was able for the other consequences of drinking: lost coats, lost phones, lost dignity - nothing bothered me. My liver, in those years, could shrug off four pints like it was dust on a lapel.

Mostly, it could. There were some hangovers that live in memory. I can still remember whimpering myself awake after a particularly devastating free bar, my legs hurt (something to do with circulation, according to Google) and my shirt was covered in blood from where I'd hit myself off the sides of the dancefloor.

The late, great AA Gill once wrote that drinkers have "degrees of wakening"; mine always involved 30 minutes of staring at the ceiling in intense self-pity, compiling an endless inventory of all the wrongs I'd done. The worst was when I had to travel home on the same day, feeling vulnerable, and not able for daylight or Ryanair. I'd arrive back into Dublin feeling certain there should be a 21-gun salute and a flag over my coffin.

But the pain always felt worth it. Drinking was a kind of mental holiday, a kind of parentheses to break up the endless run-on sentence of life. Nuala O'Faolain wrote about that "magical moment", when you and those around you have had a few drinks, and the chat is flowing and hasn't curdled into belligerence or sentimentality. That is what I was always aiming for.

But as my friends and I aged, this kind of pleasure-seeking faded. It became more and more difficult to round up people to go drinking with. Staying in became the new going out, and, selfishly, people began having children. Formerly reliable wingmen became tedious evangelists for sobriety. Everyone kept boasting about how much better they felt, how much more relaxed; how all those years, it was just booze holding us back.

Somehow, I never believed a word of this. Former alcoholics get way too much airtime in this country. They only know one way, but the majority of people manage to self-medicate with it just fine. Drink, in my life and in many others', makes things better, not worse. There is nothing like that first, triumphant sip of wine on a Friday night. It's a symphony and a hug all together. It's also a social lubricant like no other - it is only polite to drink before meeting people, as it puts you in a mood in which they will be better able to bear you. The very odd time, even drinking a bit too much is ok. It bespeaks someone who can let their hair down and who hasn't totally become their body's bitch. Ten years late, I've just finished watching Mad Men, and they're drinking all day in it - and it's glorious. We're sad little mice by comparison, with our green teas and flat whites.

And so, rather than becoming another boring middle aged quasi-teetotaller, I've instead got more precise with my dosing. I'm careful to listen to my body when it says it needs a drink, but I never go full Barney Gumble, and, however tempting it is, I won't waste that nice, convivial buzz of drinking on people I don't otherwise like. I know my limits: there is a right number of drinks you can get away with on holidays before you'll be dragging through the next day - for me, that hovers between three and four. If I'm tempted to swill more down me, I tell myself to love it just enough to only do it so much.

I interviewed TD Kate O'Connell last year and, sticking to coffee, she told me, tongue in cheek, "If I'm going to go for a drink, I prefer to go for six. My hangover time is precious. Sometimes I just have to play dead". She was joking, but dead right. Having one drink, as is offered in various hipster barbers around Dublin now, is like having one crisp, or one painkiller. It's just not worth your while. Even children shouldn't get in the way of letting loose once in a while. A hangover pass - being properly considerate of Daddy's sore head - is one of the most precious gifts that one parent can give another. And hangover recovery time is indeed precious. At a certain age, one learns the pleasure of wallowing. With a nicely drizzly day, a constant supply of tea and a suitably weepy movie, the 'day after the night before' can actually be one of the best bits.

Joanne McNally:

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Joanne McNally. Photo: Kip Carroll

Poor booze, whatever good-time shine it once had is rapidly waning - it's basically the new fags. Once considered a cool and fun distraction from the monotony and stresses of everyday life, it's now close to being your embarrassing aunt, slumped over, locked, at a family occasion, her pashmina covered in stains she picked up from rolling across the top of the buffet on her way to the toilet.

Being a lush is no longer the cool rock-and-roll move it once was. Fine, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let's remember the benefits to the baby, the social and personal perks of the lovely, drunk, blurry baby.

Now, before anyone comes for me with their tales of alcohol-induced horror, loss of jobs, marriage, homes, eyes, etc, I get that. I've friends who gave up alcohol because they are/were alcoholics and could no longer face the hell of it; they hated themselves and they got help, and now live significantly better lives. This is not about them.

I've other mates who gave it up because they didn't like how it impacted their lives: they don't like being hung-over; they've got kids now, etc. I've other friends who gave it up for no real reason at all, they just made a conscious decision to be way less crack. (Jokes! Don't @ me.) For the record, I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with my sober mates and the fact that they can ferry us around town in their vehicles is an absolute joy.

Me? I abuse alcohol; let's face it, anyone who drinks, abuses it. I use it to amplify my feelings, dilute my feelings, mask my feelings, feel my feelings. It's one of the most addictive drugs on the planet, and it's legal! You can go to the pub and shoot up with your mates all day! You can take your mother to a restaurant and they'll show you a menu of food options, followed by a list of their finest bottles of drug, and you'll choose a bottle of drug that claims it goes really well with fish, then you taste-test the drug to see if it's corked, even though you've no real understanding of why you're doing that, because it's a screw-top bottled drug, but you say, "Yes, yes, very lemony", but really, you don't care - it could be Toilet Duck, you just want the magic juice in the glass so you can relax into chewing some decent social fat with your mother.

We can shoot up all evening if we like, chatting, confiding, bonding like gum on a rug, and then we will go home and eat 12 Penguin bars. A perfect evening, because say what you want about booze, but there is no greater social lubricant, nothing brings people together like alcohol (and trauma).

I grew up in a fairly standard Irish home. It was the 1980s, so naturally my dad was busy brewing his own beer in the hot press, and my mom kept a box of wine on top of the fridge that she'd pump wine out of with a similar gusto that I'd seen them do with the water pumps in the Trocaire ads.

My mother would like you, the reader, to know that this wine pumping was not an everyday occurrence, and she's right, I would never have classed my parents as big boozers; it was occasion juice. Drink meant happiness; new babies; Communions; sport; Christmas.

I've no bad memories of alcohol - there were no big fights, no slamming doors; all they did was laugh, sing and spill things. I'm lucky in that sense, I know that.

My first drink was, of course, a dolly mixture: a cocktail of whatever the hell spirits and alcoholic syrupy gloop you could sneak out of your parents' drinks cabinet before they get back from the big shop in Roches. Topping up the bottles with water, just in case it was that very night they'd decide to take a long, slow, tour of their drinks cabinet and realise that you were not, in fact, on your way to Sinead's house to watch Dirty Dancing, but you now spent your weekends getting pissed in fields and circling the plug hole of a teenage pregnancy.

One time I couldn't find a bottle to pour the booze into, so I arrived into my local field with a holy water bottle full of social clout and sexual mystique. When the whole of South Dublin's water supply got cut off and my mother was in a panic that we'd all die of dehydration, I was faced with a serious moral conundrum: should I tell her that her drinks cabinet is actually a mini oasis? That she's actually sitting on about nine litres of perfectly good, uncontaminated H2O? Nah, she's not cool enough to understand my double life as a Southside field gangster, and I ain't no grass.

I know the benefits to a booze-free life. I hear the chat, especially from writers - their mind is razor-sharp; their eyes shine like torches; they can see into the future; they get up at 2am,and they've written a novel by 5am. All wonderful perks, of course, but I have other priorities. Steroid-level productivity is admirable, but drinking wine with my friends is one of my favourite things to do. Comics spend so much time on our own, so I live for those face-to-face conversations; they water my soul.

I love swapping stories and listening and pouring and connecting and drinking it all in. The wine emoji is the universal symbol for 'Buckle up pal, we're about to go deep'. We bring all the info we've collected that week and dump it out on the kitchen table and sift through it and dissect it, and I love it; it fuels my stand-up, I make a living off it. I make no apologies for it; the incessant swapping of social intelligence is what has kept humans alive up until now; back in ye ol' yore times, how the hell were you supposed to know that Lord Biscuit of Naas was actually riddled with syphilis, if people like me were not passing that information on to each other over ale in the local tavern? We're saving lives.

Yes, alcohol affects productivity, but it also aids it. I'm under no illusions, I know its dangers, but I appreciate its powers. Our minds jump around constantly. Most of our day is spent time travelling, we're remembering things that have happened in the past, imagining things that could happen in the future; it's like a constant, painless, cerebral electrocution.

Alcohol slows all that down for me, and while I appreciate the mind when it's busy, I also appreciate the lulls. Booze is a crutch, and I thoroughly enjoy leaning on it. I don't drink to the point where I'm ruining lives, streaking through christenings and dissolving my innards. Not yet, anyway; if that happens, I'll re-assess. I drink because I thoroughly enjoy it and the connection it brings with it, the social ease; I know I can up my game with a coffee, or I can skew my mind with a Pinot. I like skewing my mind - it has resulted in some of the best nights I've ever had, and the best friends I've ever made, and also some of the funniest stuff I've ever written (although to be fair, that's subjective, so that should not be included).

Alcohol is falling out of favour for lots of reasons, but a big one is because when you drink, you're not completely in control of yourself, and we fetishise self-control. I get it, but personally, I like losing control. Life is stressful. We're wound up so tight, the pressure of it all takes its toll; we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors took in in a lifetime. Half the time, I think I'm on the brink of short-circuiting. Alcohol is a release, and I'm all about releases.

Performing shoots your adrenaline through the roof. I love knowing I can head home that night and loosen the knot in my brain with a huge wine - it's like mental lubricant. I can feel my mind and my soul exhale.

Sometimes shame is really helpful. Shame stopped me smoking - that, and the images on the box telling me my mouth would eventually look like an anus; so vanity, but mostly shame. I wonder will alcohol be the same? Will we be shamed into sobriety? Maybe if my fag prediction is correct, our children will be completely amazed at the fact that you could once have booze indoors at a wedding or on an aeroplane. I really hope not - being alive can be hard, and a vice is a wonderful thing!

Maybe my own opinion will change, or maybe I'm deluded and in 10 years' time, I will be writing to you from a rehabilitation centre in California. Who knows, but for now, I drink.


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