Eva Short’s picture of the uncomfortable teetotaller in a sea of giddy boozers in her recent Trinity News article is one many of us recognise. Many people do silly things under the influence, and for many of us, a few drinks often becomes a few too many. For anyone to cast aspersions on people for indulging too much in the devil’s nectar presumes that our own autonomy plays second violin to that of a responsibility to remain composed. Though we’ve all witnessed what Des Bishop referred to as Stumblesville, where we, our friends and fellow Dubliners hobble somewhat limply through the streets of an evening, under the influence of some amount of alcohol, perhaps this is not the whole picture.
Most of us have indulged well beyond that which we would be advised to, and many of us have learnt the hard way what is an appropriate amount to consume. So long as we can retain our faculties, don’t cause others harm in the process, and are vigilant to the possibility that our habits are taking us in a direction that we don’t like, is it really so terrible to have a few drinks? Applying the same thought process to our friends and family, protecting from alcohol as a scourge while still allowing for it to be enjoyed, would find a happy middle-ground, but this requires education that is entirely unbiased, and certainly not funded by the companies who stand to gain from problematic drinking themselves.
Eva’s positioning of alcohol as the ugliest of all drugs, due to its ubiquity, is difficult for me to agree with. Alcohol may be the most ubiquitous of drugs, it may be responsible for many more deaths than most drugs, and it may change people’s behaviour in such a fashion that other substances don’t even approach, but there are clear distinctions between alcohol and other drugs, which make it far more socially acceptable. In the first place, while alcohol does create huge social issues that any article on alcohol would be ill-advised to ignore, the positive aspects which alcohol can bring to those who are consuming it at a safe level make it difficult to say that other drugs, even cannabis, could be seen to be better than these dumbing intoxicants.
I admire the ability of those connoisseurs who ruminate on the provenance of a particular bottle, or choose wines to go with a particular meal, or the craft brewers who experiment with different concoctions. These activities compare starkly with the role of other drugs in people’s lives. This aspect of alcohol, which sees it act as a genuine hobby, or as something which acts as a link between people in a positive sense, is far more beautiful than the pills that people drop, or the smoke that people inhale. While it is possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, whether that is the glass of wine each evening or the occasional blow-out, it is utterly impossible to have a healthy, ongoing relationship with opiates or meth-amphetamines. Never having experienced the highs and lows of any illicit substances, I can only go on hearsay. As a result, that which I understand goes by the nickname of a “K-hole”, and the experience which is apparently known as “skagging”, sound much more unpleasant than any hangover, and to my mind outweigh any lovely feeling that may arise from a high.
The essential sadness that Eva describes, whereby alcohol brings about a level of isolation, is one that many hardened drinkers may recognise, as may those who are friends or relatives of hardened drinkers. However, Eva posits this as applying particularly to binge-drinkers, who become united only in their post-binge suffering, experienced the morning after, with feelings of regret and shame pervading all thoughts. While this is a common phenomenon of course, far more identifiable is the isolation that arises from moderate, but frequent drinkers; drinkers for whom nearly every meal is accompanied by a glass (or two) of wine, or a pint of ale. This may be a “healthier” way of drinking, with the liver able to cope better with this pattern of drinking. However, socially, this results in alcohol being something not of a special or rare nature, but something which is required all the time. Futhermore, those who drink with this pattern may well be consuming vast quantities of alcohol in a week, far outweighing that of those who drink to excess much less frequently. Rather than alcohol being the social lubricant that Eva writes of, this self-medication, that alcohol allows for, and indeed, wickedly encourages, makes us more comfortable with the day we’ve just had, every single day. While this may be an ostensibly healthier way to consume alcohol, perhaps occasional drunkenness is less terrifying than regular mild merriment after all.
There is undeniably an issue with alcohol abuse among students. Students binge rather than sample, and do so much more frequently than we truly are able to recover from. However, essentially people choose to become drunk at their own risk, though they may not be fully reflecting on all possible consequences when making the choice to start drinking. The Pavilion Bar is something we are incredibly lucky to have. In the summer, we are afforded the opportunity to have a few drinks in lush grass in the warmth of the post-examination glow. If we were to really try to combat problematic drinking on College grounds, our attentions shouldn’t be directed at the Pav. There is an official limit of two drinks per patron at society events. It would be unusual for someone to become drunk from this amount. If students indulge beyond this, it is because they have chosen to, either by breaking the official policy, or by buying their own drink. If anything, the proliferation of more student bars would see students having to fork out their own cash for drinks, which would relegate their drinking to a different tier, at which they would have to make their own choices.
In conclusion, while we may not always like the effect that alcohol has on our friends and classmates, perhaps that is a matter to discuss with them directly. As it is supposed to be a social lubricant, perhaps we should be allowing for the social element to always be scrutinised. If it ceases to be social, then we face a problem, but just being drunk shouldn’t be enough reason to rusticate a friend, classmate, or stranger, for eternity. Asking them to cop on might well be enough.
Illustration: Nadia Bertaud