When the wine is in, the wit is out

By Chloe O’Sullivan

Last year, the average Irish person over 15 years of age drank the equivalent of about 44 bottles of vodka, 470 pints or 124 bottles of wine – that’s 11.9 litres of pure alcohol.
Alcohol Action Ireland says that over half of all Irish drinkers have a harmful pattern of drinking. That translates as four in ten women and seven in ten men who are consuming alcohol in a dangerous manner.

Alcohol consumption increased in Ireland by about 46 per cent between 1987 and 2001, when the average person consumed a record high of 14.3 litres.

Would it surprise you to learn that Irish students are well above the national average when it comes to alcohol consumption?

The College Lifestyle and Attitudinal National (CLAN) Survey in 2005 on Irish students’ health found that male students consumed 18.3 litres of pure alcohol, while female students drank 10.8 litres. Alcohol abuse is certainly a huge problem in Ireland – particularly among university students. Researchers have blamed the college environment for the drinking culture among university students.

Like many other cash-strapped students, I have gotten into the habit of buying a €5 bottle of wine or the cheapest shoulder of vodka I can find before I go on a night out. My reasoning behind this is that it’s way too expensive to buy all my drinks in clubs or pubs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines binge drinking as the consumption of five units or more of alcohol on a single occasion. This is equivalent to 2.5 pints of beer, five measures of spirits or about three glasses of wine.

Pre-drinking before a night out is one of the highlights of college life. Some of the best nights I remember have been at gaff parties on campus with my bottle of red. But my research for this article indicates that I am one of the many university students who are abusing alcohol. According to WHO’s figures, I am a binge drinker.

While it may seem like fun and games at the time, there are some very real dangers lurking beneath the surface. Money problems, fights, unprotected sex and accidents were three times more likely to occur among students who engaged in regular binge drinking, found CLAN.

Drinking games encourage students to consume large amounts of alcohol in short spaces of time. We’ve all played them but we may not have realised the darker side of this popular college experience.

Last November, UCC student Gary Bryan Murphy died tragically after he downed a large quantity of vodka while playing a drinking game. He had been celebrating a County hurling win at the time.

Stories like these may not come to light very often, but consuming such large amounts on alcohol in a short time can be incredibly damaging to your body and to your mind.

Forty-four per cent of males admitted having sex was an important reason for participating in a drinking game, according to an American study. Another study said that one-fifth of men confessed to taking advantage of a fellow player after a drinking game. This is undoubtedly a shocking statistic and it’s unlikely that things are much different on this side of the pond.

Alcohol dulls our inhibitions, so many of us use it to bring us out of our shell.  Risk-taking behaviour increases when we are drinking. People are more likely to get into accidents, get into fights or have unprotected sex.

Almost all regular drinkers were found to take risks sexually when they were drunk, CLAN said. Half of female binge drinkers admitted to using the morning-after pill, compared to one third of other drinkers.

Alcohol alters your state of mind. It can make us feel more confident and braver, however, it can also bring out a negative side of people that we would not normally see. CLAN revealed that over 75 per cent of regular drinkers had regretted something they had done or said.

It’s hardly surprising that anti-social behaviour is one of the biggest consequences of alcohol consumption. Ninety-seven per cent of all public order offences committed are linked to alcohol, according to the Garda PULSE system.

Alcohol Action Ireland says that an estimated €1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on dealing with alcohol-related crime such as violence and vandalism.

Last week, the notorious RAG week at NUI Galway was cancelled. The news came after last year’s event when 37 students were arrested in relation to anti-social behaviour, despite the Students’ Union’s moves to make all events non-alcoholic.

In one Galway housing estate, bottles were hurled at fire crews who came to put out bonfires. Some residents complained to Gardaí that they could not leave their homes due to the hundreds of students who had gathered for the college week.

“It’s a sad day when we have to consider replacing Rag Week; which can be regarded as a rite of passage for NUI Galway students. However, in the past few years Rag Week has descended into a week-long embarrassment to the University and an embarrassment to you – the students. The amount of money raised for charity (‘Raise And Give’ week) is pathetically small, and has fallen massively in the past few years. At the same time, the amounts of anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, violence, and arrests of students have all shot up,” said NUI Galway SU President Emmet Connolly, announcing the end of the college’s RAG week last week.

“It’s true to say that a lot of the damage is caused by non-NUI Galway students; but the fact remains that the SU cannot go on officially sanctioning a week-long binge drinking session in which the costs in damage to property are a multiple of the amounts raised for charity,” he continued.

In DCU we have thankfully never experienced this extreme level of anti-social behaviour, but tales of rugby mauls and queue crushing have come to light on the last few Toxic Tuesdays. I have been in that queue and I can say that they’re all true. We’re all there for the laugh but how long will it be before the trouble turns into a serious problem like NUIG RAG week and Toxic Tuesday is cancelled?

College is not only about getting a degree – it’s about having the craic. But drinkaware.ie has been asking us to ‘rethink our drinking’ for years now and maybe now it’s time we do.



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