Christmas Drinking in Ireland

Opinion: Christmas drinking is no fun and that’s the sobering truth

Barbara McCarthy

PUBLISHED08/12/2014 | 02:30

Barbara McCarthy won't be drinking this Christmas season

‘It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people,” goes a line in ‘The Great Gatsby’, but I can’t imagine F Scott Fitzgerald was referring to Christmas party time in Ireland when he made such a bold statement. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to be sober amongst the severely inebriated.SHARE

I’m going to try to avoid Christmas merriment as best I can this year, because I’m temporarily not drinking.

Rather than being a loyal participant, I’ve become a reluctant observer and, like anyone thrust into my position, I haven’t liked what I’ve seen. In fact, I’ve become severely intolerant. There are many levels to the irritation you have to endure if in the company of drinkers. From the banal, like having stories about someone’s children shouted in your ear during a gig, to the annoying, like sitting in a taxi with the door open while a drunken member of the group conducts a largely irrelevant conversation on the street.

I’ve been taken aback by how many people get really aggressive for no reason and pick fights, often because they misunderstood something. I’ve been robbed, had laptops broken and my passport and driver’s licence ended up in north London, even though I was in France at the time – all due to drunken negligence – none of it my own.

I’m bored of the cliched drunk women making a tool of herself and men coming up to around 1cm from my face shouting nonsense. I’ve nodded and said “no way, that’s mad” while listening to people regale war stories, which I’ve heard a million times and weren’t that funny to begin with. When a guy I know locally asked me what he’d done the other night, I just said: “The usual, you picked fights and stole people’s pints.” “Oh right,” he said in disbelief. “I had a blackout.” After all, if you can’t remember, it didn’t happen, plus I must be making it up.

Though some people are coherent and funny after drinking large amounts, they are few and far between. Seeing a complete personality turnaround happen in front of your eyes after too much drink is quite frightening, especially when people write it off so easily the next day.

I can’t imagine being ok with the idea of an eight-hour blackout. But what’s more worrying is how people underestimate how much they drink, despite the fact that there is so much information available. Contrary to popular belief, a bottle of wine and a couple of pints can contain twice a women’s weekly allowance – especially if the wine is 14.5pc and the beer is strong. In most cases, however, that’s just a quiet Sunday night’s consumption for the people in question.

I’m always surprised by the fact that people never count units or check the alcohol content on red wines, which are getting stronger and stronger. I always get given out to when I ask how strong the wine is in a restaurant or shop. “You’re being really difficult,” I’ve heard people say. I don’t think so, I’m just aware that a really strong glass of wine can have up to three units of alcohol and give you a hangover half way though. That means you can’t have more than five glasses a week.

I’m not being sanctimonious just because I’m not drinking, as I’m a glutton for indulgence myself from time to time, but I’m amazed by the amount of people who tell you to have a drink when you’re pregnant and try to force a few glasses of wine or even whiskey onto you.

There’s no evidence to prove that alcohol in any amount is ok to drink when pregnant. “Sure, the doctor says have a drink,” they say. That generally means a glass of champagne at Christmas and birthdays, once you’re past three months – not a handful of white wine spritzers every Saturday night. “My mother used to drink gin and Brandy Alexander’s and smoke 20 fags a day when she was pregnant.” Oh well, then it must be fine. It’s very disconcerting that people are so uninformed that they encourage you to drink despite possible dangers.

I know quite a number of people who used to be erudite, witty, good-looking and filled with potential who now drink 20 cans a day, several days a week and think it’s ok. When I recently addressed the fact that a mutual acquaintance has a severe alcohol problem to his friends, they simply told me to p*** off. It’s none of their business what he does. Everyone is responsible for themselves and should be able to control their own drinking. Clearly they don’t care if their friend is drinking themselves to death, he’s a bit of craic and they wouldn’t want to lose him for a night out.

I had an alcoholic friend show up outside my door at 8am on a Monday looking for the solitary can of cider I had in the fridge. He had dropped in the night before, but I was busy and he’d obviously seen it. “Just hand it out to me through the window. I’ve walked all this way,” he said.

It’s sad that the more people drink, the more they delude themselves that they’re grand, meanwhile destroying their own and other people’s lives. Eighty-eight people die every month as a direct result of alcohol. One in 10 cancers in men is caused by alcohol. Sure, everyone knows the risks, but for the next few weeks, they won’t care.

As for the Santa hats and Christmas work parties, all I can say is – leave before everyone gets locked. You won’t regret it, especially if you just started this year.

Meanwhile I’ll be looking for someone to go for a brisk walk in the mountains with, which much to my disappointment, is never going to happen.

Irish Independent