Current Affairs Editor Jacqueline Murphy writes on the ups and downs of an alcohol-free lifestyle in modern Ireland.
As news comes of Simon Harris’ plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol, it begs the question – as a nation, are our alcohol consumption levels spiralling out of control or is it just another trait of the so called ‘Merry Irish’?
Alcohol Action Ireland says the country faces a ‘significant crisis’ concerning booze, with many people favouring strong and cheap drinks. The organisation suggests a woman can reach her weekly recommended low-risk limit – 11 standard drinks – for only €4.95.
Men, meanwhile, can reach their recommended limit of 17 standard drinks for only €7.65. A pricing survey by the group looked at alcohol prices across several major stores & supermarkets, and found that a number of brands of cheap cider had the lowest price for a standard unit (as low as 45c). You see where this is going.
In September of last year, I made the conscious decision to give up alcohol completely. Growing up in Irish society as a third level student meant that decision was by no means easy to make or stay true to.
Ireland is known worldwide for its notorious drinking culture, to the point where being pregnant or on antibiotics are considered the only valid excuses if you’re spotted at a social gathering without a glass in your hand. When you think about it, alcohol is the only drug that you have to justify NOT taking – surely that says something about modern society’s attitude towards alcohol consumption today?
I think at this point, it’s important for me to highlight that I’ve never had a ‘problem’ with drink per se. Never have I felt reliant on alcohol, or longed for it when it wasn’t there. My reasons for ditching drink completely didn’t come as a result of me ending up intoxicated in a bush after a night out or finding myself in A&E after five shots too many. The main reason behind my decision was down to the way drinking alcohol makes me feel personally, ever since my first experiences of it in my mid-teens.
Whiskey seems to make me outspoken to the point where I don’t know when to shut up, while vodka leaves me far too emotional – and don’t even get me started on wine. Low moods, extreme paranoia and aching muscles for three days straight, I finally made the choice to cut myself free from alcohol just under 12 months ago and on reflection, it was honestly one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made.
From waking up hangover-free on a Friday morning with no cloud of The Fear hanging over my head to the copious amounts of pre drink/taxi/entry money I’ve saved so far and put to more sensible use, the pros certainly outweigh the cons in my eyes. I even managed to take up running not long after I ditched the alcohol, embarking on a 5km run most mornings before college, a far more beneficial stress-reliever/mood booster than any night of heavy drinking has ever given me. However, while these benefits are undoubtedly worth their weight in gold, they do come at a price.
Since choosing to no longer consume alcohol, I feel that my time spent socializing has decreased significantly. As a college student, the majority of social gatherings involve alcohol, and when you’re the only one not engaging in it, it can take some time for both yourself and those around you to adjust to that decision. My aim for 2017 is to get back into the habit of meeting up with people more frequently, as regardless of whether alcohol is the centre of the gathering or not, I feel I’m now at a point where I can feel comfortable whilst sober and still enjoy the company of those closest to me.
In particular, I think that from a dating perspective, being a non-drinker can make the chance of meeting someone new even more stressful than it already is. Personally, I’ve found that over the last few months, when I tell a guy that I don’t drink, a large number automatically assume that I’m no fun, highly-strung and thus lose interest. I feel our country’s drinking culture is primarily to blame for this, as from an early age it’s instilled in us that alcohol is necessary in order to have a good time, when in fact it’s just a beneficial accessory (when used correctly and in moderation).
The age old assumption that drinking always results in a good time is often very misleading. When abused, it wrecks friendships, sex lives and first and foremost, our mental health. We sometimes drink to forget about our troubles, even just for a few hours, only to wake up the next morning and find all those worries still in tow, along with a sore head and a little less of our dignity intact. We sometimes drink ourselves to the point of oblivion, many find themselves unable to chat someone up without the false courage that vodka provides us with, making mistakes under the influence that will result in regrets lasting far longer than any hangover will.
When consumed sensibly and for the right reasons, alcohol can enhance our enjoyment of life, there’s no doubt about it – it’s when we begin to rely on, abuse and feel controlled by it that the problems start.