Most people believe if you drink too much alcohol, it’s your own fault. While we’re great believers in taking personal responsibility for ourselves, this approach totally ignores the role of society and advertising in influencing us. If society in general took the issue of alcohol harm seriously maybe we would not have been brainwashed. We would not have grown up with the belief that drinking alcohol is a normal and essential part of an everyday happy life.
The brainwashing starts when we’re children
The research shows the brainwashing starts early. The majority of Irish children at just eight years old, think being Irish means you have to drink
So from a very early age, we see alcohol as being a normal, everyday part of our lives. As we wrote last week, there are no warning labels on alcohol. So we see it, as just a safe every day product. After all, if it was that toxic we’d be told.
The pressure to drink is everywhere
Every occasion involves drinking. We see it in the media all the time. Last Monday’s Irish Times front page shows a big photo. The winning Leinster rugby team in the dressing room spraying each other with beer and drinking cans of beer.
All those birthday cards encouraging you to drink more on your birthday. The Prosecco parties for yesterday’s royal wedding. The communion drinks while the kids play on the bouncy castles.
Not being able to drink is a problem
This week, I was talking to a woman going on an important business trip with potential customers. With a heavy cold she said she would not be drinking. Her work manager and colleagues insisted the customers might not enjoy the trip as much. So, she had to be sure to have at least one!
People who can’t control their drinking are the problem
So our society loves alcohol and we’re pressurised into drinking. Anybody who attempts to drink less or not drink at all are stigmatised. They are seen as the problem. To make this situation even worse, as people who realise they have a problem discover, finding help is very difficult.
Despite numerous reports over many years, services to help people manage their drinking are underfunded and have long waiting lists. There is also no independent regulation of alcohol treatment services to make sure they are actually helping people. No clinical audit or look back for them.
The cervical cancer screening scandal
Which brings us to the cervical cancer screening scandal. Nowhere is the contrast between our attitudes to alcohol and other health problems more obvious than in the reporting and reaction to the cervical cancer scandal.
Heroic, brave courageous women like Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna have come forward. They’ve rightly called for accountability in how they were treated in the cervical cancer screening. It’s been a top news item for nearly four weeks now. Already the Government has promised action with parliamentary hearings and supports for women affected.
Now imagine if these heroes have come forward and said their terminal breast cancer had been caused by too much alcohol but this had been missed on screening. It would not be news. There would be little or no sympathy. They certainly would not be seen as heroic.
Women who tell their alcohol stories are not interesting
Women like Senator Frances Black, Alison Canavan and Valerie Farragher who have told their alcohol harm stories simply don’t generate the same interest. They‘re not terminally ill. But they speak for the hundreds of people who are now dead as a result of alcohol harm. When they speak, there’s an initial newspaper article or two, maybe a radio interview or even a documentary. But then silence. No legislation, parliamentary inquiries or extra supports for them. It’s their fault. They drink too much alcohol.
In one month alcohol kills the same amount of people as cervical cancer does in a year
So alcohol harm kills the same amount of people in a month than cervical cancer does in a year . Yet we have no screening programme for alcohol. Nor is anybody calling for one.
Would you drink too much alcohol if you knew?
If you had known when you were younger, about all the health risks of alcohol would you be drinking as much?
If your GP asked you about your drinking, when you went for an antibiotic last time, would you be drinking as much?
So next time, you’re feeling ashamed about the fact you drink too much alcohol, show yourself some compassion. We’re all influenced by what goes on around us and we grew up in an alcohol obsessed culture. So it will most likely be more difficult than it should be to get your alcohol drinking under control.
If you’d like to know more about how we’re conditioned into drinking too much, click here.
If you’d like to support a petition to change our culture around alcohol please, click here.
if you’d like to know more about reducing alcohol related harm, please click here.