Ask a tourist what Ireland is famous for this St Patrick’s Day and you’ll most likely be told it’s “the drink”—which is likely what we would also say ourselves.
74% of the adult population in Ireland believe that drinking to excess is “just part of our culture” (Drinkaware Index 2018). As a country, we’ve accepted a misuse of alcohol archetype, but the times are changing.
The extensive, collective efforts of organisations like Drinkaware, the healthcare sector, and Government, as well as personal experience, means we have never been more aware of the harmful effects of alcohol.
The fact is that as a society we do drink to excess—our research shows 44% of the drinking population consume alcohol in a harmful manner—and this is a habit formed from a young age, as a study published in 'The Lancet' this week highlights. But the appetite for moderation is growing. More than half of the drinking population, or 52%, now do so within the HSE low-risk guidelines. One in five of us wants to cut down, and a consistent one in four adults, or 23%, don’t drink at all.
While it’s certainly the prevalent story, Ireland’s heavy drinking is only part of the story. The danger with us as a society accepting this stereotype, is that an alternative seems unviable. If this continues to be the main thrust of our national discussion around alcohol, then it only serves to reiterate our poor relationship with “the drink”, and the vicious cycle becomes even harder to break.
If we want to effect positive change, it has to feel not only worthwhile, but also possible. We know that as a nation we have the ability to evolve, challenge and adapt to new norms, rallying behind and mobilising causes that we believe will improve our society for the better.
Right now, we are seeing a movement towards more mindful drinking. The rise in popularity of non-alcoholic drinks is testament to this, as is the opening of a pub that doesn’t serve alcohol in Dublin City Centre later this month. At Drinkaware, we are receiving more and more queries that point to a sober-curious public that are actively seeking out alternatives to alcohol without sacrificing the overall social experience. Over 1.5m webpages were viewed on drinkaware.ie last year, which is up an incredible 170% on 2017.
There is still a great deal of work to be done to completely reorient Ireland’s attitude to alcohol for the better. And we all have a role to play in re-thinking our acceptance of alcohol as a normal part of Irish culture. It is harmful to us as individuals, and as a society. Rather than continue to perpetuate expected stereotypes, it’s time to tell a story that reflects who we are today.
Let’s start with the facts about what a standard drink is and therefore what low-risk drinking means. Let’s support each other in changing the mindset, as well as our behaviour. In doing so, we can create a new consensus that refuses to perpetuate the Irish stereotype, especially on St Patrick’s Day.