Emily’s relationship with alcohol was like a friend with benefits

Emily Hourican says her relationship with alcohol was like a friend with benefits, but never a soul mate. She started young at just 14 years. Even though her Mother did n’t drink, she allowed her children to have a half glass of wine at Sunday lunch.

The inoculation did not work

Emily says her Mother’s theory, was this kind of drinking would act as an inoculation, protect her children from heavy drinking. However, the research says the younger we are when we start drinking the more likely we are to have a drink problem.  

Her mother’s theory did n’t protect Emily. She would drink a bottle of Martini Bianco on the way to the school disco, getting paralytic drunk. Then her Mother found out. Years later, the women who ratted her out, told why they had to tell her Mother. They were just so worried about her safety. It shows the value of a caring community, who believe drunk children should be helped not ignored.

The drinking explodes

In a gap year in Florence, Emily learned “nice girls” just have a small glass of wine and then went for ice cream. In UCD though, nice girls did drink. Or as Emily says the “fun ones” did. They drank plenty and this continued into work life.

A bad hangover

It was normal to turn up late and theatrically dying to weddings, christenings, and family lunches. She says

“A bad hangover, was pretty much my favourite accessory, along with smudged eyeliner and boasts of only 3 hours sleep.

A change of heart

Then her Mother’s example of not drinking became more attractive. She became sick of being exhausted and missing so many days. She loved her job and wanted to do well.

So she cut back.

She still drank a couple of glasses of wine every night. She now saw alcohol as a friend with benefits, but not a soul mate. However, even this level of drinking is not recommended as it’s above the low risk guidelines.

Pregnancy interferes

Then Emily got pregnant and wisely decided not to drink at all. With 3 children who were each breastfed, she got out of the habit and found she did n’t miss it. Not that she had much of a social life anyhow.

Social Drinking becomes the norm

The odd occasion, she would have a glass of wine to celebrate. Generally only one glass, very rarely two.  But it was nice to know she could have a glass of wine when she needed it.  At the end of a very bad day, or to celebrate something- maybe a good 10 k run.

Alcohol was a friend with benefits

So Emily saw alcohol as a friend with benefits, but it was only a small part of her life. Her story shows how alcohol is so dominant in Irish society and that we have a really high tolerance for drinking too much.  Emily’s story also shows how a caring community and good role models can help influence how we view alcohol. And lastly how our relationship with alcohol can be altered- even if we’re drinking every day, we can still change.

Emily writes so beautifully and the full article can be seen here. There’s a really shock kicker at the end and now Emily can’t drink at all, so do read it for the full story.

Stefanie changed her relationship with alcohol

Good to see a magazine featuring a range of Irish celebrities talking about their relationship with alcohol.

First up was Stefanie Preissner, creator of the popular RTE show Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope

A hangover lasts 3 days

She talks  in gruesome details about waking up with a hangover which lasted 3 days, but she’s chuffed with herself for waking up in her own bed because as she says

My standards for what constitutes a good, safe night of drinking have plummeted so low, that I can achieve them simply by waking up at home alone”

She wasn’t the only one of her friends in this. The group texts would start in the afternoon, putting the jigsaw pieces of the night together until they reached the last person to blackout.

It takes effort to learn that drinking is not cool

Stefanie says we’re taught from a very young age that drinking is cool and fun. She never realised she was drinking too much because she hung out with other people who drank too much. As she says

“It’s nearly impossible to call out binge drinking, when it’s part of our cultural identity…

Irish people will do anything to protect their relationship with drink..

We call people “dry balls” or dry shites” if they try to highlight the dysfunction of drinking

There’s social currency when someone can hold their drink and not be seen as lightweight”

Stefanie is not an alcoholic

Stefanie is very clear, that she was and is not an alcoholic. But she was noticing the impact alcohol was having on her life. It was a toxic relationship. The money, the hangovers, the loss of time. Taking lots of painkillers.

Not drinking has a downside

Stefanie sometimes misses the ease with which she could drink herself into oblivion, it made it easier to sit next to annoying people at parties or events. It made it easier to deal with feelings because you could just avoid them- grief, sadness, anger all sloshed away.

She has a brilliant life now

But she says has a brilliant life, apart from all the people who feel threatened by her being sober.

She ends with a call, to people to think about not drinking.  As she says

“Not drinking for a while, wouldn’t be a problem for someone who wasn’t dependent on it.

Irish Culture is changing

Stefanie is brutally honest about her own drinking and the culture of binge drinking among her friends.

It’s great to see influencers like Stefanie showing it’s possible to enjoy life without binge drinking. Breaking down the stigma of the alcoholic label. That you don’t have to be an alcoholic to experience the downsides of drinking. Finally, our society is beginning to wake up to the harm of drinking too much.

Hopefully in years to come, it will acceptable to not drink. Making it a lot easier for those of us trying to drink less.

Stefanie’s’ article is well worth reading here.

Marian Keyes a national treasure- had a little drink problem

Marian Keyes, the book author is leading the way towards a kinder Irish society. Recently she was described as a “National treasure” at an event in the National Concert Hall, where her fans gathered to celebrate her latest book “Grown ups”.

A card carrying liberal

Marian told the audience she is

“A card carrying bleeding heart liberal, “I am really happy to pay much more tax if I knew it was going to get people off waiting lists or to build social housing. I think the young people of this country have been stiffed the most. I think it’s appalling the way it is impossible to find somewhere to rent and I think it’s appalling that there has not been an underground built in this traffic-choked city”

Marian takes action

Marian does not just talk she also takes action. Recently she appeared in a video supporting the campaign to treat drug use as a health rather than criminal issue. You can see it here

She was also a leading supporter of the Together for Yes campaign, actively campaigning and matching donations to get the poster campaign started. She got a lot of abuse for this.

Her book “The break” had a middle aged married woman travelling to London for an abortion.

Her books are not just “chick lit”

Marian Keyes books are often put down as just being “chick lit”, a term used to slag off books aimed at women.  Part of our charming misogynistic culture when women’s literature, interest and lives are valued less than men’s.

Her books as well as being entertaining, actually help people. For example,  “Saved by Cake” was written when she was suffering from depression. I’ve watched as one person I love, worked their way through the book and yes, it did actually help their depression

Rachel’s Holiday

Fans are delighted she’s announced a sequel to Rachel’s Holiday. This book describes Rachel going to what she thinks is a holiday resort for people with a little addiction problem, which turns out to be a really tough boot camp.

We often recommend the book for people who have a drink problem but also for people who want to know all that’s wrong with our addiction treatment services. It’s a beautiful moving, uplifting, insightful story.

Follow Marian on twitter

I’m obviously a fan and I follow Marian Keyes on Twitter. She is hilarious, kind and really witty and I’ve often laughed out loud at her tweets.

Here’s just one

I’d like to carry a sign saying, “I’M 56, STOP ASKING ME TO BE THIN, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE!”

Old Vumman gives Marian a hard time

Marian often tells about her Mother who she calls “Old Vumman”.  Here’s one example.


Old Vumman: Hay-loh

Me: its me!

OV: What NOW?

Me: Graham Norton likes my book! …………….. ……………..

OV: Graham Norton off the telly?

Me: Yes!

OV: …how do you know?


OV: It probably wasn’t him AT ALL! He could have been HACKED”

This type of put down from Old Vumman is pretty constant. Being lucky enough to have a Mother, who once I reached adulthood thought I was wonderful and could do no wrong, I often wonder what impact it has on Marian. Must be tough having a Mother who rarely praises you. Marian sometimes seems very vulnerable when she’s doing her videos and tweets.

Marian Keyes is honest

What I admire most of all about Marian, is she is so honest about her own problems with alcohol. She has to stay off alcohol entirely. By being so honest, she’s helping to reduce the stigma around drinking too much and showing people with alcohol problems are talented, creative, kind and sensitive. They are not horrible, nasty people, labels society often places on them.

Marian can help if you’re feeling down

So if you’re feeling down in this peak Christmas drinking season, have a read of Rachel’s holiday, it’s available in public libraries.  Or listen to Marian on Desert Island Discs here.

Marian will also be speaking at an event in the National Concert Hall in February and you can book here.

So for an enjoyable evening go along to listen to this national treasure.

PS If you’d like more tips on managing your drinking click here.

Swapping alcohol for a running high

Swapping alcohol for a running high sounds a little extreme. But this week people are talking about it as the film Brittany runs a marathon is released.

Based on a true story

Brittany is 28 years old, a heavy drinker who is overweight and does not feel good about herself. She visits her doctor hoping to get some Adderall tablets, but he tells she is unhealthy and needs to lose 55 pounds.

Self-sabotage is so common

Brittany tried to join a gym, but it’s far too expensive. She finds a pal with the same unhealthy lifestyle and they start running or is it walking! In one scene, a crowd of toddlers pass them by. Eventually they decide to run the marathon but Brittany keeps doing stuff that stops her reaching her goals. It’s called self-sabotage. This is very common amongst people who drink too much and often have low self-esteem.

A death in the family

It becomes clear that Brittany is still grieving the death of her Father. She has never come to terms with it. So it’s a major reason why she’s living such an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s often struck me that our modern fast paced lifestyle does not allow much time for grieving. We expect people to get on with it far too quickly. So people often numb grief with alcohol.

Catriona spent 10 years grieving

Jenny Valentishe describes how Caitrona Menzies-Pike saw herself as a “gin addled bookworm” who used to eye runners with suspicion as she nursed a latte and hangover. Then it struck her that she spent the 10 years grieving after the sudden death of her parents focused on distance (running away) and endurance (drinking lots). So perhaps the actual answer was running which requires the same qualities.

Swapping alcohol for running

The running helped her process her parent’s death and she started to sleep better and drink less. If there is only one thing you can do to manage your drinking, physical exercise is the one to choose. There are just so many benefits to do it as we mentioned here.

Park Runs are all round the county

You don’t have to be super fit to be a runner, or even look like a runner in all the figure hugging gear. If you go to Park Runs  available in 93 locations around the country you’ll find people of all levels of fitness and body sizes. There’s a very friendly atmosphere and park runs are free. Many people even walk the route. So why not visit a park run to see for yourself whether swapping alcohol for running works for you?

Or to get yourself in the mood, why not go see the film? The reviews are good. You can see a trailer below.

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.

A pub with no beer

Before my Mother got Alzheimer’s, her party piece was the song

  There’s nothing so lonesome like a pub with no beer.

At every single family get together, she’d be asked to sing it. It’s a great party piece with catchy sing along lines. All of us, even the smallest kids would join in on the final line of each verse,

There’s nothing as lonesome as a pub with no beer

A happy childhood memory

We always loved when my Mother sang the song. She had a nice voice and could sing all the verses and choruses perfectly and with great emotion. I loved watching her sing , because she is a shy woman and this was one time she did not mind being the certain of attention. She would share the song with her audience looking at each of us individually.
We kids and the adults would all join in on the final words of each verse-

the pub has no beer.

The joy of singing along with all the adults and feeling connected and bonded -to feel like a part of this adult group is one of my happiest childhood memories.

A pub with no beer and a man cries

As a kid, I though the song was magical. In one of the verse the chorus goes

Old Billy, the blacksmith, the first time in his life
Has gone home cold sober to his darling wife
He walks in the kitchen, she says, “You’re early, me dear”
Then he breaks down and he tells her that the pub’s got no beer

I always wondered at this. Imagine. A grown man crying because there’s a pub with no beer. It shows how important alcohol is- a disaster when there’s none around. I could not wait until I was old enough to drink and be one of the adults.

The brain washing starts early

So the brain washing that alcohol is essential to a happy life starts early. People will say it’s just a song, don’t take it so seriously. But the songs we sing and the language we use make us part of what we are, it defines us and help us make sense of our world. Every generation growing up has its own singers who help them understand and live life. From the Beatles, Queen, Taylor Swift, Drake, the songs we hear influence us. What Irish person has not enjoyed the Fields of Athenry at a sports match?

Young children think being Irish means drinking

We don’t exist in a vacuum, we’re influenced by everything that goes on around us. A Trinity College study showed most children of just 10 years in Irish primary schools already believed being Irish mean drinking. When packing their spaceships to leave Earth most of them included alcohol, because we’re Irish, that’s what we do. The cute pictures they drew showed the Leprechauns holding a pint.

pub with no beer

In Ireland, a hangover is a sign of a good night out rather than a sign of physical damage to the one and only body we have.

A shield is needed

Living in this toxic alcohol (alcogenic) culture, it’s really important we protect ourselves from absorbing these messages that alcohol is this harmless drug that’s a key part of living happily. That we need alcohol to connect to other people.

So surrounding ourselves with people who have a healthy attitude to alcohol is important. Make a point of listening to or reading content which goes against the majority view that alcohol is healthy and is vital to a happy life.
Even after years of listening to people’s stories of being harmed by alcohol, I can still find myself feeling isolated because I don’t want to drink or I only wanted one drink. One time, I’ve even given myself a hangover !

The cruel irony

Finally, My Mother can no longer sing. She talks strings of words which are hard to make sense of. On a good day, she can smile and hum along to a song. “Non-verbal” the doctors call it. A word that does not come close to describing the pain of my lovely Mother not able to talk to us.

What would I give to hear her sing the song, pub with no beer, one last time? To watch her sing and move in happy blissful connection with our family, lovingly looking at each of us in turn. Even just thinking about it, makes me cry.
I know I’d make sure someone would record her singing so I would have it for all time.

I’d also bring her to the new pub that does not sell beer .

The cruel irony is not lost on me.

You can hear the song below.

Alcohol made my depression worse

I have depression. So understanding the impact alcohol has on my mental health helps me make good conscious decisions about my drinking habits. In order to understand why alcohol has a negative impact on my mental health when drinking, I first had to educate myself about what happens to my brain when I drink.

Alcohol causes depression

Alcohol is a depressant. This means it messes with your body’s natural “happy chemicals” like serotonin and dopamine.  If you’re anything like me and have to take medication to help make up for the lack of serotonin in your brain, you’ll know you’re not really willing to part with any more happy chemicals. . (Editor’s note, many commentators disagree that lack of serotonin is the case of depression. See more details here

At first I get a good buzz

I was once that person who would get a good buzz at the start of my drinking. Then I would start to feel sad, angry, anxious, depressed and sometimes even aggressive. Some people, like me who suffer with anxiety and depression will use alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, in the long run this can create more anxiety and stress.

Anxiety and depression can make us drink too much

As the alcohol leaves the body, stress and anxiety can actually intensify due to the impact of alcohol on the brain. People who drink heavily are also more likely to experience symptoms of depression and alcohol can also intensify negative emotions. I find suffering with a mental health issue, means it is imperative I learn to cope and manage my stress and anxiety without alcohol. It is a very easy road to go down and become dependent.

It’s difficult in Ireland to say no

In our Irish culture most events and social life revolve around alcohol. People don’t realise alcohol is a psychoactive drug. So it can be really hard to say no when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

We’ve all been there;

“I’ve had such a bad day, I’d love a few drinks!”

But if we are using alcohol as a solution to our problems, whether that’s stress, anxiety, boredom, or anything else, we risk becoming psychologically dependent on alcohol.

Simple things help

A few ways I found to help manage the struggles in my brain is living a healthy lifestyle. Simple things like nutritious food and a good exercise regime to help encourage those natural endorphins. Meeting a friend for coffee and getting some worries off my chest. Learning some breathing and stress management techniques to help me calm down when feeling overwhelmed or even seeking professional help from the GP. There is no shame in admitting we need a little help managing to get through this crazy journey we call life.

If you would like more tips on controlling your drinking, click here.

If you are not sure what help you need you can call the HSE Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459 during office hours

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

Is there a message in the bottle?

Maybe one of most precious things we can cultivate in life is self-awareness and the message in the bottle does not help self awareness. Knowing why we are choosing to live in a certain way or (re)acting to something is priceless, and we owe that to ourselves if we are committed to a happy and fulfilling life.

Hard to spot

It is amazing how we human beings, can easily get caught up with old habits and patterns. Once they become ingrained in our everyday life, it can be hard to spot them because we identify ourselves with them. These difficulties can be quite avoidable, if we are able to cultivate self-awareness.

Use lots of kindness and self-love

However, self-awareness must be cultivated with kindness and self-love. This way, we can make sure that we fully understand why some types of behaviour have a grip on us, accept and work with them. But it must be done always with kindness, self-acceptance and self-respect.

Self-awareness is not self-criticism

Self-awareness has nothing to do with destructive self-criticism, which is harmful and counterproductive. We need to connect with our truth and be aware of our self-talk.

Life is a continuously evolving process and whatever we learn to be true will help us move forward or hold us back in life. What messages is life sending to us? Can we understand them?

Are these messages in the bottle really part of us?

It is important to read those messages, knowing where they are coming from and if they are really part of us or just a learned behaviour. When it comes to the habit of alcohol consumption, for example, it pays to be aware what it is trying to tell us about ourselves.

What if we could read the message in the bottle?

When we do that work, it is easy to stop on the surface rather than diving deep. It can be challenging and scary at times. What if we think that there is a message in the bottle, waiting to be read and understood?

Editor’s Note

There are many ways to develop self-awareness, some of which we list below.

  1. Meditation can be very useful. Click here for more details

2. Understanding how your childhood is affecting your thinking can also help. Click here for more details.

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