Friday March 27th 2015

Why do Irish people drink a lot?

Why do Irish people drink a lot?

How many Irish people have drinking problems?

According to the national charity Alcohol Action Ireland,  Ireland is one of 26 nations in the European Union with the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita. In fact, the Irish drink about 20% more than the average European.

In addition to total consumption of alcohol, Irish drinkers also cross the line from casual drinkers to problem drinkers. It is estimated that over half of all Irish drinkers are problem drinkers. If 80% of the total adult population of 3.2 million people drink, that means that around 1.3 million Irish people have a drinking problem. Researchers further break down the demographics like this: 40% of female drinkers and 70% of male drinkers have a harmful patterns of drinking.

And the cost of alcohol problems is enormous in Ireland. Alcohol-related costs in Ireland are estimate at 3.7 billion Euro a year, including health, missed work and crime, about 3,318 Euros per taxpayer.  And going to work hungover doesn’t help, either.  Hangover definitions account for a number of absences, or can increase public danger as people work through hangovers.

But why do the Irish, in particular, seem to drink to excess? Is drinking truly socially endemic to the culture of Ireland, do genetics play a role, or is family structure causing alcohol problems? Are there other reasons that account for the enormous social costs of alcohol consumption?

Why do Irish people drink so much alcohol?

Irish people drink alcohol for the same reasons other populations drink. For example, drinking is often an activity modeled by parents or peers, helps relieve stress or is part of normal development and coming-of-age transitions. And problem drinking can be a combination of genetics (nature) and environmental factors (nurture).  The reasons why people drink alcohol varies, but drinking alcohol, and particularly excessive drinking, plays a complex role in Irish society and is integrated within the culture. We attempt to explore here.

Affordability – The cost of alcohol in Ireland has decreased in the past decade. And stores that want to attract new customers often sell alcohol below unit-cost or in combination with special promotions.

Availability – In the past decade the availability of alcohol in Ireland have increased. Opening hours for stores selling alcohol were extended and the number of premises authorized to sell a full range of alcohol products increased by almost 70%.

Cultural and social normalization – Many people generally drink alcohol in Ireland for pleasure, relaxation and sociability. But intoxication is an acceptable social act in Ireland, either weekly or on special occasions. So, people in Ireland may engage in excessive and heavy drinking patterns because binge drinking is now the social norm.

Government inaction – As of 2008, there was no national structure, agency or body taking responsible for implementing government alcohol policies. Without governance, change in laws or oversight, people tend to continue harmful behaviors.

Marketing – In Ireland, teenagers are exposed to alcohol brands early. As a result, alcohol marketing contributes to the normalization of alcohol among young people. For example, almost one in four 16 to 21-year-olds own alcohol branded merchandise, such as clothing in Ireland. Half the ads in teen top 10 lists promote alcoholic products. And, one in three teens have seen alcohol ads while using Facebook.

If you have anything to add to this article, please do so below. We invite all comments and feedback.

Reference sources: Global report on alcohol and health in Ireland
DrugNet Ireland Issue 36 Winter 2010
Health Research Board report: Social consequences of alcohol use in Ireland

Photo credit: Frederic Poirot

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19 Responses to “Why do Irish people drink a lot?
3:23 pm July 22nd, 2011

People drink to escape themselves and having to deal with unpleasant, nasty feelings they have usually about themselves

j hizzle
11:39 pm August 19th, 2011

this article mentions that nature and nurture play a role, but only gave examples of how nurture plays a role. all of the bolded bullet points (affordability, availability, etc) talk about the culture and the circumstances in ireland.

i think the irish drink so much because they can drink so much. the ability to build up a tolerance is out of your control and certainly varies from individual to individual. this could be an example of how nature (genetices) affects how much somebody drinks.

also, the ability to drink to, and past, the point of blacking out and the ability to “hold your liquor” without throwing up could also be the genetic side of why irish people have a reputation for drinking.

its very difficult to make generalizations about groups of people’s, let alone a single person’s, behavior due to the complexity of it all. there is no simple answer, nature and nurture both play a role, just like in everything else

the truth
3:50 am October 7th, 2011

maybe the government should stop thinking about drinking. maybe it should be left up to personal responsibility. governement cant solve its own problems.

Patty Anne
6:25 pm January 29th, 2012

In response to “the truth”, while you believe that government should stop thinking about drinking, the impacts of the addiction of one individual spread well beyond the person. The tentacles reach out and impact family, community, work productivity and so forth. So while it may not be the role of government to determine how one “should” drink, it is incumbent on society to recognize the concerns and begin as well to view alcoholism and also substance use disorders as a disease and work from that premise. And then, how does the abuse of alcohol affect the development of the individual from a cognitive perspective? It is a serious topic of concern that ought not be just whisked away from public discourse because people would rather not talk about it or die to fear of their own potential for concern.

Jackie Parkes
1:06 pm April 3rd, 2012

I’m very interested in this subject for family reasons. I’m hoping to write a book on addiction in the family & the Irish connection..I would be grateful for any suggestions..

Someone said the same problem exists in the Polish community & cite causes of oppression, poverty & conquest..

2:48 pm April 3rd, 2012

Also, is alcoholism genetically a part of the Celtic bloodline, or is it conditioned by social structure? That’s an interesting question!

7:16 am August 29th, 2012

for jackie parkes….. I am an adopted child of hassidic jews who recently found out i was adopted and of irish heritage and have struggled with alcoholism since my first taste of wine(Crappy mogen d!) I can tell you nature vs nurture is crap first hand… I love my family and they do me me but theyre are distinct differences that cannot be denied despite my wish to be one of them. I am a zionist and frum but know i will never be really accepted. the genetic curse is real. I am thankful that i live in a place where i cant drink because i have seen what it did to me the few times i did. I believe it is genetic. Neither one of my parents have issues(adopted parents) but both genetic parents did…… hmmmm

12:31 am October 16th, 2012

I’m interested in this topic, because I am of full Irish descent, and have never been able to drink; although it didn’t stop me.

Nevertheless, it was easy enought to stop. I am easily convinced that Irish folk have a genetic predisposition to drinking too much.

However, I am interested in the cause: Is it because they were conquered by the British, or because there was no Protestant reformation?

12:40 pm October 16th, 2012

Hi Jack. Thanks for your questions. Historical sociological factors certainly have a role in the development of alcoholism. And both events that you reference can play a part in the ethos of the Irish psyche. But at the end of the day, as in your case, drinking is always a personal choice. Unless in the most dire of cases, no one ever holds a gun to your head and tells you to drink. But I think that the main point here is that in MODERN Ireland, problematic drinking has become normalized, and that is a problem in and of itself!

2:25 pm February 24th, 2013

Hi. My name is Sanita.
More than 35 years of my life I lived with feeling that I was unloved, unprotected, hopeless, fearful, angry, dirty, ashamed, ugly, used for pleasure /not loved/ like a toy. And who did it? They were my closest people – my family… I had questions inside me: “Why is everything so bad? What is wrong with me?”
The early childhood I remember I trusted my family and God. I was the youngest of three and the only girl. Sunday was always a special day for me. I didn’t understand many of the things that people were saying about God. All I knew was that I must believe and trust Him.
That time our country was part of the Soviet Union where God “didn’t exist”. We went to church but in many ways we were banished. It was not a problem for me. I was a problem for them because of my honesty. People lived double lives, full of secrets and lies, and it was dangerous to open your mouth in wrong time and place.
I was a happy child until my dad started drinking and abusing all of us. My mum was very quiet and I was learning from her. All my indignation I was hiding inside. I asked God for answers, but they never came. My family stopped going to the church. All my happiness was gone…
I was also badly abused by my brothers and husband. I had three children, farm, money, job… but everything inside me was broken… including myself. I started drinking trying to kill my pain and anger. It worked for a while.
I stopped asking God for answers. I was drinking and time to time I didn’t remember what I was doing last night… I was addicted to alcohol. I started my day with drink and finished it the same way. I wasn’t arrested or killed but I was beaten and raped for years. Things got worse and worse. I was angry or drunk…I tried to kill myself… It didn’t work. I left my three sons with their father because I understood that I must do something… I just didn’t know what… I loved my children but I could not stay sober…
Treatments, counsellors, churches, Alcoholics Anonymous… I stayed off drink for a while then back on it again. All my life was pure hell. I wanted to change something in my life, and I moved to Ireland but nothing changed. Even worse- I started to use drugs, and I was back in square one… I met a man and got pregnant and had twin boys. I was blessed… no matter what… but my addiction was stronger… I had to ask Social Workers for help. People judged me. I tried to stop my drinking again, again and again… Again treatments, counsellors, Alcoholics Anonymous… Doctors started to feed me with antidepressants… I spent 14 years trying to stop my drinking. I was broken, judged, full of guilt and anger, used, wrecked and hopeless…And then I STOPPED TRYING TO STOP my drinking. I WAS DONE!
I was drinking 24/7 for five and half months. I didn’t pray. I didn’t ask for any help. I didn’t have any hope. I surrendered… The last month of my drinking I was not able to eat. I was vomiting and had diarrhea all the time… All I had was drink…drink…drink…
I woke up in hospital but still I didn’t remember anything… My skin was green- yellow, eyes were yellow- brown, lost almost all my hair, I was skinny- 8 stone, and my liver was gone… Doctors didn’t let me leave hospital, and they said that I’ll die because usually people in that condition don’t survive… but I didn’t die… God saved my life.
My liver recovered in couple of months, hair started growing, I didn’t take any medication, I had happy times with my boys but for the first months of my sobriety I still didn’t believe that I was healed. People prayed for me, but I didn’t. I still felt so broken and angry… I started painful work on my issues with FRESH START group in Westport. I was grateful and angry, and my anger was killing me. I was like a man in chains from Bible /Mark 5: 2-8/… Inside me I had all four seasons, and it was like sun with storm, I was cool and hot, and I could laugh and cry, love and hate at the same time. But it was ME in chains.
But then it happened on the street in Castlebar I stopped myself and asked Jesus to come into my life, INTO MY HEART! I had to open my mouth and say it FROM ALL MY HEART. I had to give 100pc to JESUS not 50 or 99pc. I had to put EVERYTHING what is important to me /not what is left/ in God’s hands.
Now I am a part of Castlebar Christian Fellowship, where I have my new family. I accepted that Jesus loves each of us no matter what. Step by step with Jesus I started to grow again as a little plant.
Thank you for reading this, and God bless. Sanita

2:04 pm February 25th, 2013

Hello Sanita. I am so glad that you found something that works for you. I wish you a happy and joyous recovery from a life of previous addiction.

4:42 pm March 14th, 2013

Is there a dominant type of alcohol over-consumed over others in Ireland? I am somewhat curious as to how dietary intolerance or allergy comes into play as the source of alcohol addiction. The Irish source of starch has historically been potatoes vs. wheat, right? So are Irish folks able to better handle whiskey/potcheen/vodka vs. beer? I read an article that staes “It is often the case that the foods people are most addicted to are the foods they are most allergic to. While a food allergy may come without addiction, food addiction is almost always accompanied by an allergy. So food addicts are not only addicted to the food they crave, but they are very often allergic to it as well. The phrase coined to describe this phenomenon is “allergy-addiction syndrome.” I just wonder if the over-consumed drink of choice directly correlates with the source from which it is made.

Chris D
8:45 pm April 10th, 2013

First of all your bit about extension of opening times that alcohol can be served is not true! In fact the times were reduced! We can’t buy alcohol after ten o clock from the Offo where as it used to be half 11! It’s a silly law which in turn makes people drink more as people will stock up on more alcohol than is needed incase they run out and can’t return to the Offo to get more! Also as a 26 year old Irish man and big drinker! I can answer the question simply! It is because of the weather here that we have to spend a lot of time indoors !

12:28 am April 13th, 2013

I had to laugh at Chris D, its true though it never stops raining, even in the summer. I like so many of my fellow drinkers was raised in a house of drinkers. On Sunday we always went to the local after mass, which as per every village in Ireland is opposite the church, in the winter months we watch our parents and grandparents drink hot whiskey to ward off cold n flu and in the summer drink copious amounts of cider. Im sat here with a hot one full of suger and cloves and im already thinking of a nice creamy pint tomorrow afternoon.

12:22 am April 16th, 2013

The Irish were drinking badly, and known for it, long before the advent of mass advertising, cheaper booze, government inaction, and Facebook.

9:36 pm August 13th, 2013

I was just looking this up trying to figure out my tolerance. I’m an American, 1/2 Native 1/4 Irish 1/4 German. It seems there are many statistics with Germans and the Irish that support a higher level of livers metabolizing alcohol. I can drink half a handle of vodka/whiskey/rum (40%) and speak and behave sober, I get 2 stages of intoxication, drunk… and blackout. Blackout usually happens when I pass the half handle. I can’t drink beer fast enough for either. I think it’s a predisposition to metabolization in the liver. I think it also has to do with habit, I’m habitual and every day after work I yearn for some hard alcohol and some wine or beer, that’s my routine. According to American studies I’m an alcoholic, an addict of sorts. But I work a full time job, never been late (7 a.m. clock in) USMC reserve, I just enjoy it, but I feel nothing unless I go the whole 9 yards so to speak. Once at a party I took a breathalyzer which said I should be dead, I not only remember it, but remember being completely coherent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Irish and German drinking cultures for hundreds of years had anything to do with the genetics of an efficientl alcohol metabolizing liver.

7:59 pm August 22nd, 2014

I drink alcohol to handle the bullshit when its too much for me i also drink because my job at a dog grooming shop is like ww2 in there and the last reason i drink is to escape my parents constant bitching and nagging

12:06 am October 31st, 2014

To fit in, there’s a lot of peer pressure to feel like you’re one of the group.
Like Gary said, to escape the uncomfortable, painful realizations of being themselves. Most addictions are simply escapes from reality, from dealing with what IS in favour of a pleasant, anesthetizing brew.

11:53 pm November 10th, 2014

another reason is alcohol sponsorship of sport here be it rugby, football etc. every major event in ireland is intertwined with alcohol.

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