This past St. Patrick's Day was one to remember, but Kathleen O'Sullivan asks if the constant presence of alcohol makes it one to forget.
For many students, last week was filled with late nights and library bins filled with stacks of empty coffee cups, while they finished off assigments in preparation for the long weekend ahead.
With the weekend that it was, one filled with St. Patricks Day celebrations, we can be sure that the coffee was swapped with another substance for many of these students, one that is very much associated with being Irish.
Of course, it isn’t just this weekend that this is the case, it is not much different to any other. It is a regular occurrence in the student social scene. However, for some, it can become more than just a social thing.
In this culture there is an overuse of the word ‘alcoholic’, to the point that the symptoms of a young person suffering with an alcohol addiction/reliance can often be overlooked. Alcoholism most commonly affects the age group of between 18-24 year olds, which is typically the college going age.
Speaking to University of Limerick student Kelan Collins, he feels the term alcoholic is used far too loosely in our society. He also argues that a student may not suffer from alcoholism due to lack of funds. “I think it is used far too often. One of the social aspects of college is drinking and going to bars and nightclubs and that is just the norm; just because you enjoy having a few drinks a few times each week doesn’t make you an alcoholic."
“Alcoholism is a serious illness where you need alcohol to go on with your daily life, you spend all your money on it to fuel this habit. Alcoholism is not something that should be joked about. Students are short for money and may spend a large percentage of their money on alcohol. [Alcoholism] is not something that a student could even afford.”
The acceptance of excessive drinking, or binge drinking, in this country is a problem in itself. In research done by The World Health Organisation, it was found that we have the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world.
Kelan says that, although excessive drinking is a serious problem, it is also a stereotype of students due to the acceptance of the behaviour of some. Although he feels alcoholism may be exaggerated at times, many have a drinking problem of different sorts.
“It is totally acceptable to be passed out drunk leaving a nightclub carried by your friend because this is something you see outside every nightclub in Limerick on a regular basis. I myself, seeing it from the inside, do not see a problem until I walk down the streets of Limerick or the UL walkway on a Tuesday morning, seeing vomit at the corners of streets, cans of lager on the ground and lost belongings littering the concrete."
“College students can enjoy their alcohol without going overboard but some tend to drink too much on a regular basis and this so often leads to the scenes at 2am. It could be said that students know no better than what they have grown up seeing as acceptable. The drinking culture is accepted simply because it’s what we know. This acceptance of the culture has given a negative stereotype both to students and the Irish people in general. By accepting it and embracing it, we see it as the norm. The college culture has always been seen as one which is heavily influenced by alcohol," Kelan added.
One important thing to remember about alcohol is that excessive consumption and level of alcoholism is measured differently by everybody.
Speaking to Dr. Eamonn Shanahan of the Farranfore Medical Centre, he said: “I suspect peer pressure, bravado, risk-taking and the Irish culture are factors in why students may drink so much. It is hard to know."
"In Europe, Ireland, Scotland and Norway are countries that indulge in the highest rates in what is known as ‘dangerous drinking.’ The rate of alcohol consumption in Ireland per capita is 11.46 units. This is an increased figure from previous years. One in five people who drink, engage in binge drinking at least once a week,” Dr. Shanahan added.
The weekly alcohol consumption guideline is 17 standard drinks for men and 11 standard drinks for women. A significant percentage of people exceed these guidelines.
“One third of men and more than one fifth of women who consumed alcohol in the week prior to the National Alcoholic Diary Survey consumed more than their recommended weekly guidelines."
According to Dr. Shanahan, alcoholism is most common among 18-24 year olds. Among this age group, 28% of men and 22% of women consume their recommended weekly guidelines in one sitting.
Drinking habits also differ between men and women.
“More men suffer from alcoholism than women. The difference can be that men drink more in public, while women drink more in privacy at home. With women, there can be the issue of gaining weight so they avoid beer and drink spirits instead,” Dr. Shanahan said.
Excessive drinking takes a huge toll on both the physical health and mental health of many students, especially due to our ages and developing brains.
Dr. Shanahan cites this in his explanation. “During the teenage years, there are significant changes and developments in the brain. Physical pruning takes place and old connections in the brain are deleted during this process. Drinking heavily has an impact on the process. It is common among young people who drink excessively that they suffer long term consequences such as depression."
Though important to celebrate our heritage on St. Patrick's Day, maybe it's better to celebrate with acting the saint or scholar for the day, rather than drinking.
Enjoy your drink and be responsible. Don’t be a drinker stereotype, or you might be one of the harrowing statistics.