William and Kate have a pint

This week, Prince William and Kate visited Ireland and have a pint. Yet again, a grim, toxic message that the highlight of our Irish culture is a pint of Guinness produced by a global multinational. Priceless advertising publicity for a product that kills three people every day.

These trips are planned in meticulous detail, every little detail is pored over and analysed in minute detail. Who will they meet? How long will they stay? Who will greet them when they get out of the car? Where are the likely problems? These trips don’t just happen.


So the fact that no in Government thought to ask why a visit to a brewery was planned is disappointing.  Not one official or senior manager in the entire Government  thought to say,

“Hang on, we have a crisis in our hospitals with 760 people on trolley beds. Yet 1,500 hospital beds are occupied very night by people harmed by alcohol. So why are we promoting alcohol when it does so much damage to our economy and society?”

Disappointing Royals

Like many Irish people of my age, I’m not a fan of the Royals. But since the younger royals set up their Royal Foundation to tackle the stigma of mental health, I’ve been an admirer.  Prince William’s brother Prince Harry has even spoken about his own mental health struggles and how he used alcohol as a means of coping with the pain of losing his Mother. So they know on a deeply personal level the links between alcohol harm and mental health.

Badly advised

So did they or none of their advisers not see the dangers of visiting a brewery to have a pint? That they were sending a message that alcohol is a safe activity? Despite Alcohol Action Ireland and many other experts saying there is no safe level of drinking.

Have a pint

Or were they advised, those Paddies would get very upset if they did not visit a brewery?  Either way, the Royals undermined their own promotion of mental health when they and the advisers agreed to have a pint, which they know would send photos around the world.

Does it matter?

We saw how crowds welcomed the Royals. The actions of the Royals visiting a brewery to have a pint sends a hugely important message. It sends a message that alcohol is just another ordinary product. If the Royals are drinking it, it must be ok for me to drink it. It normalises alcohol and that no visit to Ireland is complete without going to the brewery to have a pint. So yes it does matter.

Brainwashing at the highest level

So as we try to manage our drinking, it is vitally important to really notice and reject these toxic messages that alcohol is a safe product, which all normal drink. Try not to absorb these misleading messages. Look at alternatives messages about alcohol. For example, Foil Arms and Hog’s really funny fantastic video . Do not be brainwashed

David versus Goliath or should it be Davina versus Goliath?

A David versus Goliath event took place this week. An important day because it was to mark new restrictions on advertising. A wide range of interesting mainly female speakers spoke.

David versus Goliath

Norah Campbell, associate professor of critical marketing spoke about the astonishing detail, tools and techniques, alcohol marketing uses to get us to buy alcohol.

As human beings we have an overwhelming need to feel connected to others. Alcohol marketing creates these stories or myths which draw us in by creating the illusion we are connecting to others by drinking their brand.

Look Mammy, that lady is having so much fun

Norah also gave the real life example of her toddler pointing to an alcohol ad and shouting,

“Look Mammy, that lady is having so much fun”

Norah’s speech alone justified the event title of David versus Goliath

Irish people drink to connect to others

HSE research found the major reason why Irish people drink is to feel connected to others.

Perhaps this is why, coming up to Christmas, it becomes more difficult to manage our drinking. All the pressure to be happy and socialise. So it’s really important to start planning social events with like-minded friends who are conscious of their drinking and won’t binge drink.

The EU is led by big alcohol

Fiona Godfrey, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance spoke about what is going on at EU level. For the last 20 years, the EU has caved into pressure from the alcohol industry. Instead of protecting society from alcohol harm they adopted alcohol industry views.

This is called”regulatory capture”. When the Regulator takes the industry view rather then protect ordinary people. It’s what led to our terrible banking crisis.

Biggest nanny of the year

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, former Minister of State for Health Promotion made the audience laugh describing how she won the “nanny in chief” award from an industry pressure group. She even went along to accept it. She’s taking some abuse trying to reduce deaths from alcohol harm.

It was good to see so many strong and powerful women speaking and taking a lead on reducing alcohol harm.

The Christmas rush has started

But, I was brought back to earth, when I got home. I found Tesco’s specials offers on an alcohol leaflet in my post box. A bottle of beer is now cheaper than a bottle of mineral water when you buy a slab of beer. At my local SuperValu, people were complaining the store had already run out of wine on one of their special offers. A very nice 4 bottles of wine pack for €30. Both of these advertising offers encourage you to drink more alcohol by buying more.

Start thinking ahead

We find December is usually a very quiet month for us as people get sucked into to all the Christmas drinking and Christmas activity. So it is really important to plan ahead to avoid drinking too much.

For example, If going to a pub or restaurant ring ahead to make sure they have some alcohol free options available. Have some low alcohol drinks in your home. Make a plan to talk to friends who are also trying to manage their drinking. Take time to do things you’ll enjoy. Find what works for you.

Deborah admitted she used alcohol as a prop

As someone who uses alcohol as a prop myself, I can see there’s a problem.

So says the well-known English journalist Deborah Orr who died recently. There were lots of tributes. From

She was formidable, magnificent and funny as hell, she was a lioness in a world full of mogs.”


“One of the cleverest, most unconventional, most fearless people on the planet”.

A star talent who used alcohol as a prop

Despite a reputation for putting people down she was known to be warm and supportive of up and coming journalists.  She wrote on a wide range of topics from politics, feminism, modern life, social media and mental health. Many years ago, long before it became more acceptable, she wrote about her own drinking   and societies attitudes to drinking with some fantastic insights. She helped expose our very troubled relationship with alcohol.

The state of our heads

In one report she wrote about how everyone knows there’s a line beyond which drinking stops being a prop and becomes self-destructive.  She argued the focus on units is not helpful and we should focus on what’s going on in people’s heads or their lives.

An excellent suggestion, but still not the norm in many of our treatment services

Don’t blame the women

After one lurid headline, where women like Zoe Ball were blamed for leading women into temptation she talked about her own drinking and the double standards that apply to women. She spoke about how as a younger woman. drinking binges were an easy release from tension with very little effort. Only now did she become aware, that there was an emptiness, she was trying to escape from.  She posed the very important question, why are we blaming women, when they are using alcohol as a prop?  Why are we not asking the question why do so many women want to get off their heads!

This is a great question, all people trying to manage their drinking should ask themselves.

Raw unflinching honesty

Ms Orr also spoke about her own personal life. One time she asked on Twitter

 ‘My ex wants to divide up the contents of the former marital home by coming round, when I’m not there, putting a red dot on absolutely anything he wants, then getting me to organise it all into a place where he can have it picked up. Anyone else had this?’

Her responses to the comments on this tweet were laugh out loud funny. She had such a wicked sense of humour.

A drunken lunch

She had a complicated relationship with alcohol which she was totally straight about. She would write about Britain drinking too much and describe a drunken lunch she had. Here’s one extract

“It’s pretty dreadful, screwing up your work for the sake of a drink. It’s really awful, screwing up your responsibilities to your children for the sake of a drink. I’m not proud. Except I made that up, too. I am proud. I regret nothing. It was a golden afternoon. We may not have been officially worshipping gods, but for one day, we were both Ferris Bueller and we both had a day off. The memory still gladdens my heart. That’s how much I needed a day off.

She was also very open about her difficult childhood which is covered in her book which will be published in January. Early reviews are positive. Once again it shows the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and difficulties in later life.

Rest in Peace

Deborah Orr was just 57 when she died of breast cancer.  As well as her many other achievements she helped shine a light on the stigma that many women who drink too much face. By the way she lived and the way she was so open about her own life she helped change how we view women. May she rest in peace.

Vicky Phelan gets apology, but don’t you expect a similar one any time soon

A great week for Vicky Phelan and the other brave cervical cancer campaigners. They got an apology from the Taoiseach in the Dail. He apologised for a litany of failures in how cervical screening operated in our country over many years.  The apology was gracious and long over due.

We owe thanks to Vicky Phelan

Thanks to the strength and courage of Vicky Phelan and her fellow campaigners, major changes have taken place in cervical cancer screening. They have shone a much needed light on how our health care system operates and forced through much needed change. You can’t but admire them. The amount of time and energy that has been focused in this area is amazing. But it really does show the incredible double standards we have on women’s health.

Were you ever screened?

The double standard is so big no one seems to see it.  Yes, the cervical cancer screening programme had major flaws and treated women disgracefully. Yes, it was right there was outrage. But where is the similar outrage over the flawed alcohol screening programme? 

Because alcohol harm kills nearly as many people in just one month as cervical cancer does in a year.

vicky phelan

The alcohol screening programme was terminated

The World Health Organisation recommends all patients be screening annually for potential harm. They even produced guidelines on how to do it.  So Ireland introduced an alcohol screening programme. The HSE and the Irish College of General Practitioners had a pilot programme  way back in 2006. It got good results but it was not funded and it came to a halt. There was no outcry in the media over the lack of support for alcohol screening.

The Elephant in the room

When it comes to alcohol, society has been so brainwashed we just can’t see the absolute scandal   in our attitudes to the psychoactive drug that is alcohol. We can’t see the costs to ourselves and the cost to our children.  In Irish society , alcohol is a drug you have to apologise for not taking.

Maybe we need a few Vicky Phelans in alcohol?

We’ve had people just as talented and formidable as Vicky Phelan try to raise the alcohol harm issue. Many of them brave women who have suffered from alcohol harm..

Our own Valerie Farragher featured in a full length TV programme and continues to campaign. Emma went public on her experiences as did Aoife McElwain and Alison Canavan.   We’ve also had John Higgins who lost his son due to alcohol harm.

Senator Lynn Ruane and Senator Frances Black have raised the alcohol harm issue in the Oireachtas many many times.

The President refuses to go to the GAA final

Dr Michael Loftus, now in his 90’s and previously a GP in Mayo, was a long time campaigner against alcohol. He became President of the GAA and at one stage refused to go to All Ireland finals because the GAA at that stage accepted alcohol sponsorships. (Thankfully the GAA no longer do this)

We’ve had the comedian Des Bishop do funny, entertaining, insightful documentaries about alcohol.

So it’s not for lack of high profile campaigners that we’re still drowning in alcohol harm.

Paschal’s Pilsner

The cervical cancer campaigners don’t have a big well-funded skilled effective opposition group distorting the facts. This opposition group use every possible tactic to ensure we see alcohol harm as just a few irresponsible people who can’t control their drinking.  

They’re so good at lobbying.

Just one example, in this year’s “austerity Brexit” budget they got to keep a tax relief costing €5.8 million. So now they’re giving our Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohue his very own beer, called Paschal‘s Pilsner. See the Irish Times report below.

An apology?

So I don’t think we’ll be getting an apology any time soon for the lack of alcohol screening. Screening that would help people recognise alcohol harm before it actually happens. Screening that helps prevent people becoming addicted to alcohol. Screening that would signal a major change in our attitudes towards alcohol.  Since the initial screening project stopped over 10,000 people have died from alcohol harm.

So an apology would show a belated recognition that our Government has been too friendly to the alcohol industry and not listened enough to health care professionals and alcohol harm campaigners.   

PS “Overcoming” the new book by Vicky Phelan is now available and so far I’m finding it a great read.

Jennifer Zamparelli on Sober October

Sober October is on this month.  RTE’s Jennifer Zamparelli covered the topic on Radio 2 this week. Jennifer is also a very talented actress playing the very funny Bridget in “Bridget and Eamon”, a TV soap I always laugh at.

Jennifer gives up alcohol

Early this year, Jennifer was interviewed on why she gave up alcohol. She was a host on “Dancing with the Stars” and her work schedule was just too busy.  She said:

‘I knocked drinking on the head for a while. I know, I’m a boring b*****d. I don’t drink on the Sunday with the lads.”

Very sad.  Our Irish culture has taught Jennifer to believe when she’s not drinking she’s boring.  It shows just how much our culture revolves around and adores alcohol.

No regrets

The interviewer says

“Despite her busy schedule and having to give up alcohol, Jennifer said she has no regrets joining Dancing with the Stars.”

So again, it’s such a sacrifice giving up alcohol. There’s no emphasis on the the great things in Jennifer’s life and that life without alcohol can be happy and satisfying.

Jennifer is not doing Sober October

Our own Valerie Farragher was invited onto RTE2 with Jennifer to discuss Sober October. When Valerie asks Jennifer does she have a hangover, Jennifer replies not today, but laughs I’m glad you did n’t ask me that yesterday  So it appears Sober October is not for Jennifer. She is back on the alcohol.

As an interviewer she covers the topic well with lots of people texting in and gives plenty of time to Valerie.

Valerie gives good advice

Valerie talks a lot of sense about our attitudes to drink.  She thinks “harm reduction” rather than abstinence is much more helpful for people trying to manage their drinking.

A really good tip is listing all the reasons you like drinking and then all the reasons you don’t like drinking. (Click here for more information)

You can listen to the full interview here on Sober October 2FM

Proud grandmother has first brandy in ten years

We’re all so happy to see Shane Lowry winning the Open. An incredible achievement and one to be celebrated. Sadly though, all the images I’m seeing take place in a pub with lots of talk of filling the claret jug with alcohol and drinking brandy.

Grandmother has first brandy in ten years

Yes, “Grandmother has first brandy in 10 years“, is an actual headline from our national news broadcaster here  on the RTE news website.

In a terrific interview with Shane’s lovely Granny Scanlon, when she spoke about how proud she was of her Grandson, our national broadcaster highlights alcohol.

Mrs Scanlon mentions she had two brandies when she had not drunk for ten years. She was honest enough to admit the brandies “nearly killed her”. Now, we’re not criticising Mrs Scanlon, suggesting she has a drink problem or she should not drink.

We’re criticising our national broadcaster for once again celebrating alcohol to generate a good headline. Ignoring all the other lovely stuff, Mrs Scalon said, any of which would have been interesting. For example, Shane eating the turf.

A woman drinking her first brandy in years is a news headline. The RTE headlines reflects a toxic culture that celebrating always means alcohol.

Philly Mc Mahon calls stop

Philly Mc Mahon disagrees. The talented Dublin footballer and Gym owner does not drink. He believes Irish people have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, He states Irish people believe

Ah sure, we’re Irish we like to drink, we still glamorise the whole culture around it, without realising it still destroys whole families.”

Last year, when Philly was on the Late Late show and alcohol was mentioned, there was a big cheer. Unlike most people Philly was offended. Philly has worked to try and change this and I’m looking forward to reading his book “The Choice”.

A long way to go

Despite Philly’s and many other people’s efforts, as we can see from a headline celebrating someone drinking, we’ve still a long way to go to change drinking culture. The media do not help and could do so much more.

Instead of colluding with the alcohol industry to keep us believing that alcohol is harmless, they could warn us about alcohol harm.

Now days the media always end reports on suicide with

“If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme you can contact the following helpline numbers….”

So if they can do it with suicide, imagine if the media ended all reports on alcohol with

“Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that can kill, if you’ve been affected by alcohol harm, you can contact the following helpline numbers…”

A seductive red

So imagine after every wine review, talking about a

“Very seductive, soft, sweet, strawberry, Pinot Noir,

Or every article talking about new gins

 “A funky orange gin that will be especially popular in the rebel county”

(Both recent quotes)

The article or interview had a warning

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that can kill, if you’ve been affected by alcohol harm, you can contact the following helpline numbers….”

It would be an initial start to reducing the passion of our toxic love affair with alcohol.

Not convinced?

Until the media stop selling the idea, that alcohol is this harmless party drug and instead have to warn people that alcohol is a psychoactive drug, we’ll continue to see too many people being harmed by alcohol.

After all, when we stopped allowing cigarette advertising and put warnings on packets we started to see attitudes towards smoking changing. Now smoking is not cool, and for the first time ever we now have more ex-smokers than actual smokers.

This all happened as part of a big public health campaign but it shows it is possible to change attitudes with good leadership. The media has a major role to play in this.

Ignore the hype

So it’s difficult to avoid the hype that celebrating means we drink. However, just be aware, that’s all it is- hype. It’s possible to enjoy ourselves without alcohol. And as Mrs Scanlon found alcohol can take away from the enjoyment of happy occasions.

Are you affected by “Silent Voices”?

Silent Voices, is a new campaign which aims to show how Ireland’s toxic relationship with alcohol hurts so many people.

This campaign is not about blaming people, or pointing fingers. Silent Voices want to stop the cycle of damage repeating and repeating across generations. As Father Peter Mc Verry says

Hurt people hurt other people”.

Marion, Barbara and Carol are 3 brave women

The 3 brave women leading the campaign have spoken out about the impact of their parents drinking on their lives.

Marion Rackard has been acutely aware of the silent stress including feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Barbara Whelan had feelings of anxiety and depression throughout her life. She began to realise the impact it had on her and sought professional help.

Carol Fawsitt found her self-esteem was “shot”. She felt different to everyone else, always on the outside, never being good enough, always feeling inadequate.

By setting up this campaign, these brave women are helping to start a much needed conversation about the harm alcohol does.

 Fergal felt shame was like his second skin

The celebrity BBC TV presenter Fergal Keane grew up with alcohol misuse. He felt shame all the time. It was like a second skin. The other big feeling he has is grief, because he never had a normal childhood.

In the video launching the campaign, Fergal talks about his own misuse of alcohol. He also makes the really important point that his parents did not wilfully set out to harm him. Useful to remember if you’re a parent drinking too much and feeling ashamed of the impact on your children.

Fergal’s book a memoir of his life called  “All of these people” is well worth while reading and is available from libraries or online

Are you more likely to have a problem with alcohol?

The research on whether children with parents who misused alcohol are more likely themselves to have problems with alcohol is mixed. Some studies report there is a higher risk of such children going on to have problems with alcohol, other say it is less likely. It seems to be generally accepted though that children affected by alcohol harm are more likely to have mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression etc. as adults. Silent Voices has more information here.

Everyone in Ireland knows some affected 

Since the early 1960’s our average drinking per person has gone from 4.9 litres per person to a high of 14.3 litres in 2001. The Health Research Board report that over 1.3 million people drink too much and the Silent Voices group estimate over 400,000 adults have been affected by parental drinking

silent voices

Are you a silent voice?

Are you an adult child affected by your parents’ alcohol misuse?

Well half the battle is to acknowledge that alcohol harmed your childhood and this harm may still be affecting you to-day. It might even be affecting your own ability to manage your drinking.

You might find it useful to read the stories of other adult survivors which you can find here.

You might also find our tips here on coping with emotional neglect useful.  Click here for details

When is drinking too much our fault?

Last week, we wrote about drinking culture  raising the issue of is it really our fault if we drink too much?

What do the experts say?

The experts look at three things, they call Structural, Community and Individual.


What’s the structural issue?

Structural looks at stuff like legal systems and regulations. So in Ireland, we licence pubs and we allow alcohol advertising. Until the new Public Health Alcohol bill is actually implemented alcohol can be sold below cost as a loss leader by big supermarkets. Makes it very cheap and easy to buy.

What the bill won’t do is stop sports accepting alcohol advertising. So we’ll still have the ridiculous situation of leading sport heroes like Johnny Sexton accepting the “Heineken Man of the Match award”

So in Ireland, structural factors are still stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

What’s the Community issue?

The community aspect is how people as a society actually work and live together. The GAA is a big part of our community. They’re more aware of the damage alcohol does as they don’t accept alcohol sponsorships and they train club staff to provide help for people who drink too much. (Click here for details)

So they are well ahead of the rugby gang. However so many of the local clubs depend on alcohol sales to stay afloat and the range of alcohol free drinks in club bars is generally poor.

Communion and Confirmation season

With communion and confirmation season on us, we can really see how everything resolves around drink. So often the Communion party is the bouncy castle in the garden, where all the kids play outside while the adults sit around for hours drinking. Not just one or two glasses of wine, but a bottle or two. Kids grow up to see this as normal and then repeat the cycle when they are adults.

So the community we live in is still very much stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

Does the individual have a part to play?

So is it any wonder we drink too much given the pressures to drink all the time? Is it our fault? This is where it’s useful to separate out fault versus responsibility.

Fault versus Responsibility

So if your partner cheats on you, it’s not your fault. If you grew up in a household where drinking too much was normal, it’s not your fault.
However it is your responsibility to figure out how you are going to deal with it. Because as the actor Will Smith says it’s

“Your heart, your life, your responsibility to be happy”.

So as we wrote last week, knowing the game is rigged against you helps. It is not your fault, drinking less is so difficult. It however your responsibility to decide how you are going to deal with the obstacles placed in your way.

It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility

So when things go wrong, like you discover your partner is cheating, or just a really rough day in work and anxiety levels are through the roof, it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with this.

Have a bottle of wine, or just a glass, or maybe just head out for a walk? It’s not your fault, you’re having a rough time, but it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with it.

Will’s video is well worth watching and you can see it here.


Is Blue Monday really so blue?

The idea that Blue Monday, the 3rd Monday in January is the most depressing day has taken hold in the last few years. Even though the science behind blue Monday is highly suspect!  Many people do find the 3rd week of January   depressing- the New Year’s resolutions have been broken or it’s very tough going and money is very tight until the end of the month.

So we thought we’d cheer you up by looking at some of the really positive things that are happening.


#Metoo movement

This was a major story in the last few years. Women standing up for themselves and calling out those in power, abusing that power by sexually assaulting women. It became a topic of conversation at tea breaks over lunch and for the first time many men became aware of the level of intimidation many women must face every day.


Change is happening at ground level

One highlight for me was a coffee break where one man stated woman were exaggerating about unwanted  sexual innuendo. Every single woman from women in their 20’s to their 60’s put up their hand to say yes, they had been subjected to unwanted sexual remarks or  physical contact at least once. The man was visibly shocked and hopefully he has a new take on the issue.


Women’s voices are becoming stronger

We had the horrific Belfast rape trial followed by further horrible questioning in a Cork trial where a woman was asked about the underwear she was wearing, showing rape myths are alive and well.

But now women are standing up for themselves.  There were protests after the Belfast trial and  Cork Trials. Jena Keating a Cork woman stood alone on Patrick Street in her underwear, with her mouth taped and ‘this is not consent’ written all over her body.

People starting hugging her (click here  for video) and she really got the point across.


Brave Campaigners

Brave Vicky Phelan has changed the face of Irish medicine and how women are perceived with her decision to campaign on cervical cancer screening.

Louise O Neill’s book on sexual consent was turned in to a searing sold out play and Lynn Ruane’s book about her life won an award.

We also had the campaigners for repeal persuading the people of Ireland to vote for abortion. Whatever your views about abortion, it always disturbed me that in a country which banned abortion we did not have a decent child care system and children often have to wait years for health treatment. Maybe now we’re a little less hypocritical.

Another highlight for me was seeing Emmet Kirwan’s video showing one woman’s life, it covered so many different important topics. (click here)


The backlash against alcohol begins

At long last, we’re beginning to see more people starting to question our attitude to alcohol

There was

The well-known commentator Adrian Childs documentary talking about his relationship with alcohol.

BBB news talking about resisting “drink pushers” during the festive season

The Irish media even got in on the act saying Merry Christmas cards showing alcohol give the wrong message about alcohol.


A pub without alcohol

We even have Ireland’s first ever permanent pub without alcohol coming. Hopefully opening in February.

Imagine that!

There’s also a few other pubs. All In Dublin as far as I know, but they just have alcohol free sessions. Now if they could just reduce the price of alcohol free drinks!


Addiction services starting to change

Finally the horrible practise of bullying and insulting people with alcohol problems is now  starting to be challenged. This article appeared in the Irish Times.  This practise has no benefit in treatment so  avoid any treatment that includes this approach.


Public Health Alcohol Bill

A major achievement was the passing of the Public Health Alcohol Bill. Despite powerful lobbying the bill finally passed. Now the Government just has to implement it.


Blue Monday is not so blue

So yes, we’ve still a long way to go, this Blue Monday  but finally Irish society is beginning to change. so don’t give up hope. Change is always possible. If you’re feeling a bit Blue Monday why not look back on the last year and see if you can find five memories or events that made you happy.