Sunday 15 September 2019

Barbara McCarthy: 'I love Ireland because we have great craic - but must the glass always be half full?'

Health warning: Irish women are drinking too much for their own good, according to medical research
Health warning: Irish women are drinking too much for their own good, according to medical research
Barbara McCarthy

Barbara McCarthy

It appears that, despite puritans on Instagram posting photos of themselves working out and being smug, Irish women still like to go out and get hammered.

A comprehensive global survey by 'The Lancet' medical journal, involving 189 countries, found Irish women drink an awful lot. In fact, only women in Lithuania, Moldova and the Czech Republic drink more.

The number of us who indulge in "heavy episodic drinking" - six or more drinks at least once a month - stands at 40pc. But more than 60pc of our teenage girls binge drink.

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You will hear a plethora of excuses as to why we drink too much: Our culture, our addictive personalities, inclement weather, the Church, lack of alternatives, peer pressure, laziness, denial. I could go on but, let's face it, a lack of imagination has a lot to do with it.

Fair enough, Ireland isn't California, where you can go surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. We don't enjoy a year-round outdoor culture. We have extremely busy lives and live far from one another, so when we meet as a collective we mostly just drink.

It's passed off as great craic, but predictable and non-committal. Social media and the cult of "busy" means people are less likely to want to do things communally, other than have a few pints when it suits them.

I've given up trying to meet up "for coffee" and am still waiting for someone to take me up on that Saturday hiking offer I've been throwing out since the 1990s.

"But you can't blame people," Dublin-based psychotherapist Gerry Hickey says. "Women particularly lead extremely stressful, fragmented lives combining work and often children while also looking after elderly parents, so alcohol is an outlet.

"Ireland is set up for drinking and we feel we're left with little choice socially.

"You get snubbed for ordering a coffee in a pub, taking up valuable drinking space.

"Drinking at home is the biggest issue for women, but when women go out, alcohol like gin and wine are marketed towards them and have become dangerously glamourised," he adds.

Prof Colin O'Gara, head of addiction services at St John of God Hospital in Dublin, notes: "Alcohol is worse than any other drug. It's socially acceptable and people still aren't taking it seriously. Women are more prone to develop liver problems than men, because their bodies don't process it as quickly.

"A healthy intake of alcohol is 11 units per week. A 750ml bottle of wine at 13pc alcohol has 10 units, and people often drink one per night at home and socialise at the weekends on top of that."

According to Alcohol Action Ireland, drinking one standard drink a day is associated with a 9pc increase in the risk of breast cancer, while three to six increases the risk by 41pc.

Between 2001 and 2010, 1,700 female cancer deaths in Ireland were attributable to alcohol.

"Unfortunately, despite the fact that people are doing triathlons and are seen to be healthier, we still have a massive issue with alcohol," Prof O'Gara says.

"At the front line, we have women presenting with mental health issues, anxiety and addictions to prescription drugs, but also with liver cirrhosis and other physical health problems."

Again stress and modern life is to blame, but I don't buy it. We all have "busy, stressful lives" and yet we always find time for going on the lash. Lots of time. If I were to add up my lost weekends with friends and the subsequent recovery, literally years have been wasted.

We need to be more American, where people with families drive for hours just to go camping with friends at the weekends. Some think nothing of driving thousands of miles from Florida to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada to Burning Man or other events.

They plan for a year, bring supplies, and everyone helps out and builds camps. Booze is omnipresent but no one will get utterly wasted like we would.

In Ireland, pubs and social activities are booze-centred - like pub quizzes or book clubs. Doing activities alone is totally fine, but when it comes to socialising, we need a middle ground.

I love Ireland because of our huge capacity for craic - but it's one-sided. Does the glass always need to be half full?

Maybe this new Ireland people are talking about could be a haven for fun, but also a place where people go hiking together sometime or maybe even a walk somewhere.

Irish Independent

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