Ireland and alcohol have always gone hand in hand. We, as a nation, seem to embrace our stereotype of being big drinkers and for many, this label is seen almost as a badge of honour to be worn with great pride. With studies showing that more than half of the adult Irish population drink weekly, we definitely live up to that reputation! Irish college students drink hazardous amounts of alcohol each week in order to let loose and have a good time. However, there are a small number of students rejecting this norm and saying no to alcohol. Trinity News spoke to students who are fighting back against this stereotype and living a sober life.
Speaking to Trinity News, one student explains how “over the summer, I was travelling and meeting new people and when they realised I didn’t drink it was very much a question of ‘why?’: ‘Why don’t you drink? Are you an alcoholic? Do you miss it?’”. These are the intrusive, invasive questions that non-drinkers know all too well and are constantly bombarded with during their day-to-day life. The student goes on to say how “people will ask why [I don’t drink] and keep pushing” until they get an answer. Although these questions could be coming from a good place with a genuine curiosity to know more about the non-drinker lifestyle, it is best to avoid asking these sorts of questions as the insensitivity can have a real impact on those being asked. Opening up, the student told a story from her travels: “one girl asked why [I don’t drink] and I didn’t want to answer because it’s awkward explaining the reason because it’s so vulnerable. I don’t want to lie but also don’t want to tell her.” The student has “taken to saying I’m not drinking tonight” or saying “I just react badly to it.” However, that still does not put a halt to the intrusive, pushy questions which she is constantly asked.
The student explains how she doesn’t want other people to think she is “boring”. Even though friends reassure her that just because she doesn’t drink, it does not make her a boring person, the student explains how she is still “met with a shock” and questions of “oh really why don’t you drink?” when meeting new people.
“In Irish culture, so many of our social activities involve drinking alcohol or will inevitably lead to drinking alcohol — it is difficult not to feel boring when you do not partake in the activity many find synonymous with fun.”
The student goes on to highlight how she has “taken to not really saying [I don’t drink] unless I feel like they are not someone who is gonna judge me.” For many teenagers in Ireland, drinking (especially from a young age) has been seen as a symbol of coolness and for some, this attitude has still translated into adulthood. Studies have shown that over 80% of Irish schoolchildren have had their first drink by the age of 17. The student explains how certain people “think they are feral and so cool” for their drinking habits and she “wouldn’t say it around them because I would feel judged” for her personal choice to abstain from alcohol. This judgement often stems from a fear of those who do not stick to the status quo and the norm and in Ireland, drinking is seen as a constant in many of our lives.
Drinking in Ireland is a social activity — going out clubbing, heading to the pub, course drinks are all key ways in which many people make and meet new friends. The student explains how since she doesn’t drink, she “struggled with feeling left out” and “had just given up.” She reflects on how she “was in first year and wanted to make friends but all the social events were in environments with drinking and that made me really anxious.” In addition to this, “it was really stressful so I felt like I couldn’t go to a lot of those events,” and that “every single social event is always drinking which is kind of annoying.” On a more positive note, she highlights how “it has gotten easier to not feel left out because I remind myself of why I’m [not drinking] but it was very hard to get to the point.” She differentiated between her friends and people she would meet on a night out: “people I’d talk to on nights out would not become my good friends. I would tend to meet my real friends in day-to-day settings where I wouldn’t be drunk.”
Clubbing seems to be essential for most college students with almost any night of the week being a club night somewhere. The sticky, sweaty dance floors seem almost impossible to navigate if not inebriated, with the interviewee agreeing: “I do not enjoy clubbing, the atmosphere is so stressful.” As for more general nights out to places like the pub, she explains how it makes her “really anxious” and the combination of the “loud environments” and “new people” create “a very stressful environment” which would result in her cancelling on her friends or getting there and leaving immediately.
Nights out do not have the same appeal for drinkers and non-drinkers with the student highlighting that “before I gave up drinking the appeal [of nights out] was to literally get smashed. Whereas now the focus is on socialising but before I was just going out to get drunk.” A shift towards more sober nights out where the main goal is not to get hammered is very beneficial and almost therapeutic in a way. Forming meaningful and genuine connections with people and most importantly remembering those interactions is critical for creating lifelong friendships. Also, waking up on a Saturday morning without the fear is something which many of us hope for after a night out!
“However, the student states that it can be ‘harder to talk to people’ when not drinking and finds that her ‘social battery runs out with not drinking’ around those who are drinking and getting progressively drunker.”
The student shared her thoughts on the seemingly toxic drinking culture that exists in Irish society stating that it is “not very not accepting of those who don’t drink.” She goes on to emphasise how our community “really ignores the bad side of alcohol and seems to praise people for getting locked.” Alcohol is a depressant and can affect our minds, feelings, and emotions and disrupt the balance in our bodies. The student brings up how “the effects [of alcohol] on your mental health are perceived in such an ignorant way, like people are so quick to judge.”
Overall, Ireland needs to rethink our drinking habits – we as a nation have grown too accustomed to getting absolutely hammered each night out and many cannot understand why alcohol would not appeal to everyone. Irish people need to be more open-minded and accepting towards those who choose to abstain from alcohol. It is important to be more cautious in our choice of words around non-drinkers as it can be seen that a little sensitivity can go a long way! Not drinking should not be seen as taboo in Irish society – we need to take positive steps towards limiting our consumption of alcohol and striving to live even a little bit more of a sober life.