A banging headache and a fuzzy memory

Ciara O'Loughlin

A banging headache, a fuzzy memory and the dreaded ‘fear’ are all too common for the average Irish person. 

Ireland is a nation who is no stranger for liking to purge on liquor. Binge drinking has become so common in our country, that we don’t realise the effects it could be having on our physical and mental health.

Irish people aged 18-24 have the highest rates of binge drinking in the EU, according to the Central Statistics Office. Also, Irish teenagers have been ranked among the highest binge drinkers in the world, according to a new global study of adolescent health.

The study was published by The Lancet two weeks ago and found that binge drinking was more prevalent among Irish girls than boys. Irish teenage girls were ranked third in the global table of the worst drinkers behind Denmark and Finland.

According to the World Health Organisation, binge drinking is defined as six or more standard drinks in one session. That is the equivalent of three or more pints of beer or six or more pub measures of spirits.

In an Instagram poll of 77 Irish men and women, all under the age of 26, 88 per cent considered three pints “a quiet night”. 77 per cent of those surveyed didn’t know that three pints, which is six standard units, was binge drinking. After being told this, 75 per cent said that they binge drink at least once a month. When asked if they would consider reducing their alcohol intake with this new knowledge, only 19 per cent said yes.

Pharmacist Shamir Patel explained to The College View that many people binge drink on the regular without realising and that this could be damaging to both their physical and mental health.

“Binge drinking is a dangerous drinking culture, as your body can actually only process one unit of alcohol per hour,” he said.

Marc, aged 42 from Dublin, decided to give up drinking alcohol two years ago in order to focus on fitness and improve both his physical and mental health.

“Ireland does not have a healthy relationship with alcohol. As a nation it seems inbuilt into our psyche that we need alcohol to entertain, soothe and give us confidence,” he said.

“What I previously thought was necessary to both enjoy social situations and be confident in those situations is, in fact, a fallacy,” he added.

Marc also explained that ‘the fear’ is a very real and dangerous consequence to binge drinking.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is the low level of anxiety that exists with regular sessions or even moderate drinking over a long time scale. My confidence is much higher without alcohol and there just seems to be less anxiety.”

Long term effects of binge drinking, which are often only thought of when it is too late, include damage to organs such as the heart, liver and brain, cancers of the mouth, throat and breasts, psychological issues, a depressed immune system and damage to relationships.

According to Stanton Peele, a psychotherapist specialising in addiction, the single most important determinant of how you drink is the culture, community and people you drink with.

“Drinking is very much socially determined . . . So, the good news for all human beings, Irish included, is that if you choose a positive drinking environment – where people are positive and convivial, and they don’t act out when they drink, and they consume alcohol in a moderate, positive fashion – then it’s likely that such a positive experience is going to be beneficial for you,” he told The Irish Times.

Alex Philbin, a 22-year-old student in UCC, has never tried alcohol. She claimed that for her, the negative effects of alcohol have always outweighed the positives.

“I don’t feel like I miss out. There is definitely a social pressure to drink. People are often questioning my decision on nights out or slagging people who don’t drink in my presence. That’s certainly an annoyance, but it has never made me feel like I’m missing out on anything,” she added.

Ciara O’Loughlin

Image Credit: Alison Clair