I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a moral panic about binge-drinking youths.
We currently have the second highest binge drinking rate in the world, just behind Austria.
According to a World Health Organisation study last year 39% of Irish people aged 15 and over had engaged in binge drinking, defined as drinking at least six standard drinks in one session.
The Government argues that the reason we drink so much is because drink is cheap.
This is despite the fact that our alcohol is the most expensive in the EU apart from Finland.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar plans to introduce minimum unit pricing, with a 500ml can of beer being sold for not less than €2 and the cheapest bottle of wine costing at least €8.
As a ‘youth’ I would argue that price has little to do with our drinking problem. I’ve known students who only ate cereal for a week because they would spend all their money on drink.
The problem is the incentives people are given.
The first thing that most law-makers don’t understand is that going to clubs is a huge part of student life. I don’t know if you’ve been to a club recently but they’re pretty awful to be in if you’re not drunk.
The second thing is people don’t go to clubs until around midnight. In the meantime they will pre-drink somewhere else.
Most students can’t afford to go to a bar and pay €5 for a pint. Most have a budget of less than €50 for a night out, including the taxi home.
Instead you will head to an off-licence and pick up drink there before going to a friend’s house.
The next big decision facing students is ‘how can I get drunk for the least amount of money?’ The question is never ‘is it too expensive for me to drink?’
What most people end up doing is buying a naggin instead of cans of beer or cider because first, they cost more and take longer to get your drunk, and secondly they’re heavier to carry. If you were in a pub this would not be a consideration.
You are also cognisant of the fact that off-licences close at 10 so it’s probably safer to buy more than you would normally, just in case you run out.
Once you get to a friend’s house it is a race against time. You don’t want to be sobering up as you arrive in a club where everyone else is drunk so you drink more than you would normally.
Drinks are not cheap at a club either so you aim to be drunk enough to get you through the rest of the night (although often you’re so drunk you forget about your budget and buy more drinks there anyway).
Plus, your bag will be checked when you get to the club so you can’t bring the rest of the drink with you. Better to finish it off before you go.
None of the steps in this equation would arise – the need to buy more drink than you should, the need to drink more than you normally do – if young people could afford to drink in pubs.
If you knew that you could afford to buy another drink if you finish your first one we could relax and stop acting like we’re about to go into drinking hibernation and we need to store up for the winter.
Minimum prince units do nothing to stop students from going through this ritual of ‘buying enough drink to get me through the night’ and do everything to push them away from pubs.
In other countries where drinks are much cheaper we don’t see the same level of drinking problems, and there is not a single bit of evidence to show that increasing the prices on alcohols actually deters people from drinking.
What you end up with are poorer students and no dent in our national drinking problem.
Maybe it’s about time the people making these laws actually stop and ask young people why they drink the way they do instead of putting in place policies which sound good but don’t do anything.