This week, Andy McLoughlin has been busy interviewing the cast of The Leaving and getting their perspective on drinking in Ireland in the run up to The Leaving, 2-4 September
We’ve all heard the story. You are a pure little teenager, full of potential and ambition for the future. The world is your oyster and you are the spunky little pearl in the centre. Until one day you fall in with “The Wrong Crowd”. You know The Wrong Crowd. Those unfavourable types who spend their time engaged in such deplorable activities as “wearing tracksuits” and “having fun”, instead of engaging in more enlightening middle class past-times such as memorizing test answers and developing anxiety disorders. It’s The Wrong Crowd who will introduce you to drink. And you’ll resist the temptation at first because you know that alcohol is the devil, until one day the sheer force of the peer pressure will overcome you and you begin your steady spiral into delinquency with your first drink.
Except no. After interviewing the other eleven cast members of The Leaving, a different story emerged. This is not a scientific study. I am literally just some lad who had a chat with eleven of his mates. It’s not a representative sample of society and for the love of Jesus please don’t treat any of this like it’s factual information. But it wouldn’t be fair either to say that I didn’t feel like I got any real insights as a result. So with that in mind, let me share some of what I found to be the most surprising things I discovered in my research, given what our secondary school teachers would have us believe…
- “Pressure” Rarely Has Anything To Do With It
This one is probably the biggest blind spot in the story we’re told. Not a single one of the people I interviewed told me they didn’t actually want to drink the first time they had it. In fact, for most people, it was barely a decision at all.
Someone handed me a warm can of Heineken. And it was disgusting. And I drank it. Because that’s what everyone else was doing… But it was a house party and I knew everyone there. So it was a fitting in thing, but it wasn’t as well. Because I wasn’t the only one there who’d never drunk at that party. Like my best friend hadn’t either. So it was nice because we both got drunk together… Off a can.
This is not exactly the tragic tale I described earlier. Apart from the fact that no one should ever have to drink warm Heineken that is. But at no point did anyone say “No I don’t want that” and wound up doing it anyway because they needed to fit in. The reality is people don’t see alcohol as a boogeyman. Why would they? It’s much harder to sell the “alcohol will ruin your life” story in a room full of people who are still living and breathing and doing the ChaCha Slide despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of alcohol in their lives.
And usually people don’t have too much trouble saying “no” either.
I think I- I knew it was happening somewhere in the world- a lot of places, but the friends I was with weren’t doing it, but the friends I like- I was like “ah hi, nice to see ye,” they were doing it… And I remember being like envious of that, but I also like- I remember thinking “oh this is a situation where I- I shouldn’t be” as well. Like I’m too young, I was always like “I’m too young for this. I have lots of time to be doing that.”
All that being said, when do decide not to drink it’s a different story.
…I’m eighteen, so people are like “oh so now you can start drinking” and I’m like “No. That doesn’t- that’s not what I mean, that’s not what the age means.” So now it’s like, now that I’m not drinking at eighteen, they’re like “well why?”
If there is an unspoken assumption that everyone who can drink should drink, then maybe we have a problem. But really, we need to get rid of this notion of “peer pressure” entirely, because in reality, it’s not peers that really affect people’s behaviour the most.
- Families are a much bigger factor than friends
Mam was grand about it. My dad was like- always kind of assuming that I was drinking and offering me drink and I was like “just let me be the way I am!” And my aunt was so bad, like always tryna- because she’d have been drinking blue WKD since she could walk like.
Of the people I talked to, only about half of them actually had their first full drink with their mates. The rest did it at a family event. That’s not to say that parents have total control over their kids behaviour- after all, the people who didn’t start drinking with their parents wound up drinking somewhere else eventually anyway. But it is a reminder of the obvious truth that we don’t choose our family, and so whatever messages we’re getting from them, we’re going to be getting for a long time.
I suppose- I think a lot of people’s drinking has a lot to do with their parents and what they watched growing up as well. Because I noticed that I’m very like my mam- when I drink, and my attitude towards it as well. And I’d notice that my friends are the same as their parents as well.
During these interviews, I would rarely get the same answer to the same question twice. But the one thing I heard over and over again was that people wanted to be able to talk to their parents about alcohol. The more it was kept a secret, the less people felt safe, and the less they were able to actually talk about it.
Well, my dad would be strict, my mam would be more like “oh ok you’re going to a party, ok you can have one can” and I’m like “fine” and get myself like a shoulder as well… It means I don’t have to stay out all night or like, sleep in a ditch or something, like I can come home, they know I have drank like.
3) People drink because they want to.
This is huge. We have to stop thinking of drinking as some sort of affliction that strikes us when we’re young and continues to affect us until we die of liver disease at the age of thirty six. Even if you are of the opinion that all alcohol leads to is bad decisions, bad dancing, and bad sex, there’s still the reality that most people see drinking as some sort of solution to a problem. What is that problem? It depends. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the reasons given for drinking in the interviews:
A list of reasons why people drink:
- Makes them more sociable
- Lightens the mood
- Something to do with their hands
- Forget their problems
- tolerate other people
- be themselves
The point is, the decision to drink or not drink is almost always a calculation. And for the most part, people make that calculation pretty well. They’ve seen West Street on a Friday night, they know the risks. In reality, problems only really arise when alcohol becomes a factor in the decision about whether or not to drink alcohol. Like when your mate Steve is nine sheets to the wind, cross-eyed and stumbling over to the bar, declaring that what is needed at right this instant is another round of shots. At that point it’s a bit like going to Ronald McDonald for advice on healthy eating.
I did it more last year than I did this year, but drinking to write is definitely a thing… There’s a great quote by someone, I’m not sure who it is- I think it’s like, “write drunk, edit sober”. And that’s really true. Sometimes like- the thought processes you go through were not totally there… It’s something you can’t access and it’s like sometimes you can say “here’s a great poem I wrote, and I was drunk when I wrote it”. It’s just interesting to see.
2) Most Young Drinkers Have Pretty Healthy Attitudes Towards Drink
In last week’s blog I painted a very fire and brimstone image of younguns across the country getting hammered twenty four seven and having all the unprotected sex they can and “oh my god it’s killing us all!” Well that’s not completely fair. In reality well…
We were at a restaurant for my seventeenth and my mam was like to the waiters “If his friends wanna order…” because my friends are eighteen. They ordered. We went home and had some drinks and played Mario Kart- that literally shows our maturity emm- I don’t like- I don’t respect the whole thing of getting out to a field and getting smashed- I’m like, not into that.
When I asked people for their best memories of drinking, most people talked about sitting and chatting with mates. Not swinging out of chandeliers, or getting yipped on Class A’s or breaking into fire stations and pretending to be pole dancers.
Foo fighters last year. There’s one. We weren’t drunk, we just had like- someone passed round a naggin. And that was it for the entire day. And that was amazing. Like that was the best day ever…
And it’s not like drinking responsibly is something people never think about either…
And I think… some people just… go with it, in the same manner that they begin with, so they can’t handle it at first and sometimes they never learn to handle it while they’re drunk and they just act the same way the whole time. Some people learn to- some people learn to just be more cognisant when they’re drunk so they’ll learn to stop posting their feelings on like social media and Twitter or whatever. Or they’ll like, stop Snapchatting people and sending drunk texts and shit. It just depends on the person.
And it really does depend on the person. Because whenever I find myself looking for “the young person’s perspective”, I’ve hit the same wall every time. And it’s becoming clear about now that there’s one very good reason for that…
- There is no such thing as “the young person’s perspective”
You do find yourself more social and more sort of- easier to talk to and easier to talk to strangers and all that… I feel like being in normal life just as a- a wall and then- something disintegrates a little bit.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to drink to become more sociable. If you start doing that then you’re going to start doing that a lot more often, and then you’re gonna get a problem. Because it obviously does make you a lot more outgoing and then it’s just- if you become dependent on it then… you’re fucked.
I told a bit of a porky in my blog a few weeks ago when I said that this play was giving our perspective on drinking. It’s not. It’s just a reasonably good average of our perspectives.
In fact, most people’s answers had very little in common with each other at all. For every person who had their first drink with their parents, there was another who would never even let their parents know they were drinking. For every person who drinks to be more sociable there’s another who thinks that that’s a one way ticket to alcoholism. Everyone I interviewed had drunk alcohol before they turned eighteen, but that was basically the extent of their similarity.
So when you come see this play, remember that what you are getting is one perspective. And a fresh perspective will always be a useful thing. But it’s no substitute for a conversation. The play runs from tomorrow until Sunday, but let’s keep the conversation going after that. Sure we’ll make an evening of it. First round’s on me.
Until then, why not pass the time by booking a ticket to come see our show? It’s called The Leaving by Tom Swift, it’s on in The Droichead Arts Centre from September 2-4 and tickets are €9/€12. You can book tickets here: http://www.droichead.com/show/873557483 or by phoning this number: 041 983 3946 or by going to the box office at the Droichead Arts Centre.
If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol and would like to talk about it, here are some good places to do that: http://drinkhelp.ie/get-help/useful-links/