What are you drinking this St. Patrick’s Day? If you choose to forego alcohol this holiday, as I plan to do, you can still enjoy the merriment of Ireland’s most celebrated holiday.
St. Patrick himself was a bishop whose life was notable for modesty and sobriety. Yet, Ireland is strongly associated with its significant drinking culture. It’s debatable why the Irish drink so much but as James Joyce put it: “Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.”
Navigating a Drinking Culture
Whatever you do and wherever you are this Paddy’s Day, it’s more than likely that some nostalgia about what it means to be Irish will cross your mind. And you’ll likely get caught up at one point or another in stories that romanticize Ireland and its drinking culture.
As an Irish-American, every year I make a personal choice is to follow Lenten traditions that restrict drinking alcohol. But I lift that restriction, in keeping with tradition, for one day of dissoluteness in order to celebrate and propagate the holiday’s tradition.
According to lore, Ireland’s first pub dates back to 1198 and whiskey dates back to the 1400’s. Beer has been around even longer, dating back to the Bronze and early Iron Ages.
Although some early monasteries were undoubtedly ascetic to the point of abstinence, it’s also a fact that many of them had very active breweries.
Drinks Flow Around the World
And while drinking is synonymous with being Irish – it is not exclusively an Irish trait, as is well known here in the United States.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), slightly more than half of Americans aged twelve or older report being current drinkers of alcohol. And according to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol use causes 88,000 deaths a year.
I have made an important discovery…that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effects of intoxication.-Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde sure got that right! But I’d also add that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities also produces; injury (crashes, falls, burns), violence, high-risk sex (including sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV), high blood-pressure, heart disease, stroke, skin damage, liver failure, cancer, memory problems, dementia, depression, suicide, anxiety…the list just goes on and on.
Follow the Leader
Despite a stereotype that the Irish are raging alcoholics, they are actually a country that is aware, concerned and proactive in taking care of their own. And we can all take a lesson from that!
Through a variety of public health initiatives, the Irish government has investigated the drinking problem and is working to improve the health and safety of their citizens.
Alcohol Action Ireland, for example, is a public health organization that addresses alcohol harm. They incorporate evidence-based research into an educational forum that aims to better inform the population and offer solutions to a major crisis.
Here’s what’s going on in Ireland in terms of drinking statistics:
- Alcohol consumption tripled between 1960 and 2001, rising from 4.9 liters of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and over to 14.3 liters.
- As the country recovers from the recession, alcohol consumption has remained at very high levels (11 liters in 2014) and it has begun to rise again over the past two years.
- Drinking until drunk is also a particular concern, as binge drinking, which is a major driver of alcohol harm, is commonplace in Ireland.
- The World Health Organization (WHO)
found that Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world.
Working Through the Temptations
That first pint is a right of passage. Not long ago, it was common to find a child slugging back a pint of stout in the pub with his or her parents. The great Irish poet, playwright and novelist, Brendan Behan said, “The most important things to do in the world are to something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.”
When Behan mentioned drink, I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t talking about water. Brendan Behan was well known for his alcoholism. He started drinking at a very young age. A biographer wrote that one day, when little Brendan was only eight, he was walking home from a drinking session with his granny. A passerby saw him and remarked, “Oh my, isn’t it just terrible to see such a young child deformed!” Behan’s granny retorted, “He’s not deformed…he’s simply drunk!”
Not long ago, it was common to find a child slugging back a pint of stout in the pub with his or her parents.-Helen FarrellBehan wasn’t the only Irishman to succumb to the temptations of a rich thick pint. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harms and risks. Their bodies and brains are still developing, after all. With this in mind, a campaign focused at educating young people about the effects of alcohol on their mental health, Mental Drinking, was launched in Ireland along with the help of Alcohol Action Ireland.
This organization makes information easily accessible about the risks and consequences of alcohol. Excessive drinking, especially for young people, causes emotional disturbances – the most extreme of these being suicide. The Irish Times reported that Ireland has the second highest suicide rate in Europe.
Challenge the Status Quo
Of course, Ireland isn’t the only country to bring attention to the dangers of imbibing on a regular basis. But their efforts are laudable given the country’s strong association with alcohol.
And that’s why, this St. Patrick’s Day, while we reminisce about what it means to be Irish, I encourage people to acknowledge how one small country is challenging their stereotyped identity and the status quo.
Change is difficult. Alcoholics know this better than anyone else. Drifting into complacency is easy when one has established an image as an addict. But consider this, if it’s possible for a country like Ireland to make strides in shifting their identity, then it’s more than feasible for individuals here at home to do the same.
A country cannot be defined by stereotypes or its besotted past – and neither can any individual person.
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