Why Ireland’s drinking culture needs to change

Looking at statistics from Ireland and abroad, Gillian talks about the drinking culture and how it impacts the next generation

Written by Gillian Hogan


When people think of Ireland there is one stereotype that, without fail, is brought up. That is that Ireland is a nation with a love for alcohol. Usually that stereotype is taken lightly by the Irish and doesn’t cause any particular offence. After all, it’s not like we can deny it.

It may all seem like fun and games but the National Alcohol Diary Survey (2014) found that more than half (54%) of 18-75 year old drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers which equates to 1.35 million harmful drinkers in Ireland. 75% of all alcohol consumed in Ireland in 2013 was done so as part of a binge drinking session with one in five (21.1%) drinkers engaging in binge drinking at least once a week. Binge drinking is defined as anything more than six standard alcoholic beverages in one session.

Although it is illegal in Ireland to drink alcohol under the age of 18, many Irish people start drinking as young as the early teens. It is not a surprise that the attitude held by Ireland’s adults towards alcohol is easily absorbed by young people. Like in any situation, children are a product of their environment, which in Ireland, is extremely alcohol centred. If parents give the impression that excessive drinking is okay, their kids will likely follow in their footsteps. In a study of 15 year olds, 15% of boys and 11% of girls reported their first drunkness at age 13 or younger. Another survey found that almost two-thirds (63.9%) of males and half (51.4%) of females started drinking alcohol before the age of 18 years.

Of course, some people also choose to avoid alcohol for a variety of reasons.

‘A lot of my friends, when drunk, become messes which really doesn’t appeal to me. My family suffer with alcoholism. This for me is a problem that I don’t want to happen to me. It obviously might not get that bad but the fear is still there’, explained Adam, 21, who makes the decision to abstain from consuming alcohol.

According to the Drink Aware parent research report (2015) 53% of parents consider it acceptable for children to drink alcohol at home before the age of 18. The same study found that 23% of parents have not spoken to their children about alcohol. Many parents believe that if they are the ones to provide their children’s alcohol, it will lead to lower alcohol related risks. However, the opposite was found to be true as in an Australian study published in the Lancet Public Health in 2018. Teenagers given alcohol by their parents were 95 per cent more likely to binge drink in the future than those who had found another way to get a drink.

‘My parents hate the thought of me going out on a mad one but know that its normal for people my age so I’m allowed. In the last year, they’ve always advised me as to what drinks are better to start with and which ones to stay away from. Even though they’re not completely happy with the situation they feel more comfortable because they know I’m informed of the dangers’, said 16 year old Cíola from Dublin.  

Those working in the alcohol industry are aware of what is going on, but unfortunately there is little that can be done to stop.

‘The amount of underage people that try and get served is unbelievable. A lot of them have fake ID so even though we can tell they are underage, we can’t prove it so there’s nothing we can do. If they don’t have ID and get kicked out they’ll usually stay in the beer garden and get one of their friends that is 18 to buy them a drink. However, since it is a local pub, the main case of underage drinking I see is parents buying their kids a drink when they all go to the pub together,’ said Rachel, a bartender in a local North Dublin pub.

According to DrinkAware, an independent, non-profit company which is funded by contributions from the alcohol and grocery retail industries, it is the parents responsibility to make sure their children handle alcohol responsibly. Parents are urged to lead by example, ensure their children have other hobbies and are not bored, set out ground rules involving alcohol use and develop an open, trusting relationship with their child.

‘My parents definitely had an influence on the fact that I don’t drink alcohol. My Mam doesn’t drink much other than wine and my dad doesn’t drink alcohol at all. Being sober never seemed to hold my dad back from having any fun and I’ve found that that’s also true for myself. ‘ said Nicola, aged 19, who has never consumed alcohol before.

Nobody is saying that we should cleanse ourselves of all alcohol and become a completely sober country, but it is important to understand that the drinking culture associated with Ireland goes much deeper than casual social drinks in the pub. Each generation looks at the one coming up behind them and says things like ‘the problem is getting worse’ or ‘we weren’t that bad’. The penny needs to drop that these habits are not picked up from thin air and the teenagers are only a product of the environment they are brought up in.

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