You don’t have to be an al­co­holic to want to give up the drink

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Lifestyle - Padraig O’Mo­rain is ac­cred­ited by the Ir­ish As­so­ci­a­tion for Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy.

What’s the link be­tween the drink­ing habits of jour­nal­ists 30 years ago and the fall­ing con­sump­tion of al­co­hol among young Euro­peans?

The link is that both are, or were, signs that our love af­fair with al­co­hol is go­ing through a long, if slow, cool­ing off pe­riod.

Once upon a time I worked in PR. When we or­gan­ised any event at which jour­nal­ists might ap­pear, the rule was to have a ta­ble groan­ing with free drink. Whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, stout, lager and wine were in­dis­pens­able to the free flow of in­for­ma­tion.

When I be­came a busi­ness jour­nal­ist in the 1980s I no­ticed things had changed. Bal­ly­gowan bot­tled wa­ter had ar­rived to a cho­rus of doubters who could not see the logic of ask­ing Ir­ish peo­ple to pay for what fell from the skies for free. But it quickly be­came the cool thing to drink, at least dur­ing the day.

The young bloods of the press be­gan ask­ing for Bal­ly­gowan and go­ing back to work sober. Some of their el­ders opted for the free booze and re­turned to work well-oiled which, as it hap­pens, didn’t stop them from writ­ing very good copy. At the time, it was per­fectly ac­cept­able to turn up in the news­room with sev­eral drinks on board.


That grow­ing pref­er­ence for wa­ter in a set­ting in which the booze was ac­tu­ally free was one I found in­trigu­ing at the time. Grad­u­ally, the whiskey, gin, vodka and so on were re­placed by wine and wa­ter and now you might not even no­tice the ab­sence of al­co­hol.

Fast-for­ward to to­day and ev­i­dence ac­cu­mu­lates that at­ti­tudes are chang­ing among the young. In Bri­tain, more than a quar­ter of young peo­ple de­scribe them­selves as non-drinkers. Bri­tain’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, of course, has a pro­hi­bi­tion against drink­ing al­co­hol, but an in­crease in non-drink­ing is found in the white pop­u­la­tion as well as other groups.

In Ire­land, drink­ing among teenagers is ac­tu­ally lower than the Euro­pean av­er­age which has been de­clin­ing. The de­cline in drink­ing in Europe is fairly mod­est, but it is a de­cline none­the­less.

Some of this is con­nected, I sus­pect, with hav­ing other things to do. Walk down a busy city street in the evening and see the cof­fee shops full of peo­ple, mostly young. Thirty years ago they would have been in the pub be­cause the chances of find­ing a cof­fee shop af­ter six o’clock in the evening were poor to re­mote.

The older gen­er­a­tions of drinkers of­ten gave it up for Novem­ber each year. This had some­thing to do with the Catholic be­lief in pur­ga­tory. Your sac­ri­fice could get your de­ceased rel­a­tives re­leased from the fires of pur­ga­tory – where their sins were be­ing burned away – or at least re­duce their sen­tence by a few cen­turies.

To­day, in­stead, we have the sec­u­lar dry Jan­uary and sober Oc­to­ber. The lat­ter ap­pears to have orig­i­nated in Aus­tralia but looks like it’s start­ing to catch on in this part of the world. Why does any of this mat­ter? I think it mat­ters be­cause for peo­ple who want to cut down on their drink­ing, or to drop it al­to­gether, it re­ally helps to re­alise that they are not alone. Large num­bers of per­fectly nor­mal peo­ple won’t have a drink tonight or to­mor­row night or the night af­ter but they will still have fun.

It used to be as­sumed by drinkers that if you asked for a non-al­co­holic drink in a pub, you must be an al­co­holic tem­po­rar­ily on the wagon

It used to be as­sumed by drinkers that if you asked for a non-al­co­holic drink in a pub, you must be an al­co­holic tem­po­rar­ily on the wagon. What else could ex­plain such odd be­hav­iour?

The at­ti­tude was so ridicu­lous that if you stood there with a glass of wa­ter in your hand and said you were an al­co­holic peo­ple would be more will­ing to be­lieve you than if you were nurs­ing a glass of whiskey.

To­day you don’t have to be an al­co­holic to give up the drink – which means that our re­la­tion­ship with drink is chang­ing and that those then-young jour­nal­ists who pre­ferred free wa­ter to free al­co­hol back in the 1980s were part of a trend that is not over yet.

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