There’s nothing cool about being tanked up

N14S2PicI don’t consider myself a killjoy when it comes to alcohol and its consumption. I occasionally drink and have, on occasion, drunk a little too much.

But I have to admit that I’ve drunk less and less in recent years, firstly because of the amount of driving I do and secondly because I don’t feel the need to drink in order to enjoy myself.

Now maybe I’m the one that’s out of step in a country so socially dominated by alcohol. Well, if that is the case then I’ll gladly sit in the freaks’ corner. Proudly even.

I have to admit to a feeling of despair when I see lads a decade or more younger than me striding out of a shop with a slab of bottles or cans, boasting about all they’re going to knock back that night. After all, consumption of alcohol is no evidence of one’s manliness.

But sure that’s what young fellas do, isn’t it, those who’ll label my words as curmudgeon will cry, and of course there’s more than a barley grain of truth in that assertion.

But if I applied that same logic to shooting up on heroin, can one imagine the reaction such a column would receive? I’d be barracked, hounded and abused – as I should be.

Yet for some reason, and I can only imagine it’s because most of us intake alcohol, there’s a greater social acceptance of someone being pissed than what there is of someone who’s stoned.

And that to me makes no sense whatsoever given the appalling damage which alcohol is wreaking on individuals and families throughout this country.

Which is why whenever we enter into a debate about drug abuse, the drug which should top the list for discussion each and every time should be alcohol.

I abhor what it has done to people, some of whom I’ve known for many years, what it has reduced them to, and how their drinking has impacted on the lives of those who love them. And I suspect we all know of at least one person who may have never uttered the phrase “I’m an alcoholic” when the truth so plainly indicates that he or she sadly is.

Alcohol in its own right is not an evil, but given the anecdotal evidence that suggests there are more than a few Irish people out there who would be better off if they didn’t drink at all, it’s vital that we continue to discuss it.

Isn’t it odd that we hear and read so much about the ‘war on drugs’ on a regular basis, but we rarely hear that phraseology applied to our national alcohol problem?

Alcohol Action Ireland held its annual conference last week, under the theme ‘The Fear: Alcohol And Mental Health In Ireland Today’, where the link between both issues was underlined and discussed.

One of those attending the conference was Mayo native John Higgins, whose 19-year-old son David died two years ago after a heavy night’s drinking.

“I’d see it as drink related,” said Mr Higgins of his son’s death during an interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One last week.

“He went to a party…at six o’clock in the morning he wasn’t able to speak to me on the phone. He was upset, we went looking for him, we didn’t know where to look. We headed for the party, he was gone out of the party, we went outside and eventually Anne heard somebody shouting ‘he’s in the river’ and he was gone.”

After two weeks of searching, during which time the body of a friend of Mr Higgins’s was found (the deceased – Tommy Halley – had been looking for David himself in the River Moy), his son’s body was recovered.

At David’s inquest, the Coroner stated that the deceased’s actions were “drink-fuelled and irresponsible”, tough words for any parent to hear, but words which John Higgins couldn’t disagree with.

“There’s no point in trying to make sense of an area when so much drink was involved, there’s no point in pointing fingers at people. It’s done. But now we have to make sure that this type of thing doesn’t happen again.”

John Higgins said that the “ridiculous” pricing of alcohol was something which the authorities ought to tackle. “For a very small amount of money, youngsters can avail of a lot, of lot of alcohol.”

A quick price check in a city centre shop last Thursday illustrated Mr Higgins’ point. A slab of 24 300ml cans of lager was priced at €30. Purchasing 24 cans of a 330ml soft drink in the same store would set you back €26.40.

The pattern established during the boom years of knocking off a bottle or two of wine or self-measured glasses of vodka at home before hitting the town, remains sadly intact.

People are now drunk before they even get into a pub or a club, and that’s before the shots are imbibed.

And, as statistics from the Irish Hospital In-Patient Enquiry scheme revealed, alcoholic liver disease rates – and deaths – almost trebled between 1995 and 2007.

Alcoholism is an appalling condition, one which affects so many more people than just the alcoholic.

That one particular beer is known as ‘the wife beater’ – and not in a frowned-upon sense – again illustrates our decidedly odd attitude to drink. How I wish that wasn’t the case.

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