Miriam Donohoe: There's dozens of reasons why 12 pubs of Christmas craze is wrong
Ho ho ho 'tis the season to be jolly, and we are getting into the spirit of Christmas in predictable Irish fashion. Over the next week or so we will knock back gallons of beer, wine and spirits as the customary annual boozefest gets into full swing.
We already have the 12 Days of Christmas, but we are raising the bar with the latest tradition, the 12 Pubs of Christmas, a crawl which involves having a drink in a dozen different pubs in the one day. The real winners are the publicans whose tills are ringing merrily as gluttonous drinkers take up the challenge to drown themselves in this new drinking craze.
The first I became aware of the 12 Pubs of Christmas was when I came across two different groups of revellers wearing loud Christmas jumpers and Santa hats in Dublin city centre. They were very merry indeed, at four in the afternoon, most likely well on their way to alcohol oblivion.
The rules of engagement for this game differ from group to group. Some impose a "fine" of an extra drink if you mention the word "recession" on the Christmas crawl, while in more extreme cases you are not allowed to eat until you have downed in your 12th pub.
There are lots of 12 Days of Christmas pub routes to choose from in Dublin, including Temple Bar, the Baggot Mile, and the area around Camden Street and Dame Street. And the practice has spread outside of the capital. There is even a 12daysofchristmas.com website.
Apparently I am one of the last people in Ireland to be aware of this drinking craze. Anyone I mentioned it to knew about it. One friend told me his daughter went on a 12 Pubs of Christmas tour on Tuesday – and finally made contact with him at around 2.30 yesterday. I warily asked my own two kids (aged almost 21 and 23) if they had any plans. Thank God they haven't. But neither of them could understand my horror at the idea of this game.
Now I love a jar and the craic and look forward to a few good nights out over Christmas. I am no party pooper. I know alcohol is built into many Christmas events and has been the enabler of the craic for generations. It has fuelled good memories for most of us. But drinking to excess at Christmas, and all the misery it brings families, is bad enough without games to encourage people to have 12 drinks in the one evening "for fun". What has to happen in this country before we wake up to the fact that we are in serious trouble when it comes to alcohol abuse? The statistics are shocking.
Since you sat down to Christmas dinner last year, approximately 1,100 people have died in Ireland from an alcohol-related condition. That is a lot of family members left without a loved one this Christmas Day after suffering potentially avoidable bereavements.
The estimated cost to Irish society of problem alcohol use is €3.7bn, according to a 2010 HSE report. That's the amount that was cut in this year's Budget.
The report of the Steering Group on National Substance Misuse Strategy published earlier this year shows we are now consuming more than twice the average amount of alcohol than we did in 1960. The Irish adult drank 11.9 litres of pure alcohol in 2010, or 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka per year.
Binge drinking in particular is a problem, with one-quarter of Irish adults reporting that they binge drink every week. A binge is when we have more than six standard drinks.
Over half of Irish 16-year-olds have been drunk, and one in five is a weekly drinker. And the average age of first alcohol use in children decreased from 15 years for children born in 1980 to 14 years for children born in 1990.
There are lots of factors that can be blamed for the increase in our drinking habits. There is no doubt that cheap off-licence, garage and supermarket sales are a contributory factor to alcohol misuse. There has been a 161pc increase in the number of off-licences operating in Ireland between 1998 and 2010.
Despite moves to curb it, sponsorship of sporting events by the drinks industry is still a feature. There are huge vested interests in the alcohol industry, which provides an estimated 50,000 jobs.
One of the authorities on alcohol abuse, Dr Joe Barry, professor of population health medicine at Trinity College, warned this week that drinking 12 drinks in one session is a problem. "If you have borderline liver failure and take part in something like this, it will push you over the edge. After that much alcohol, people are likely to drink-drive or get into a car, or more likely to take a risk by getting into a car driven by someone who has drink in their system."
There is no cheery side to excessive drinking. We need to finally tackle our unhealthy relationship with alcohol head-on.