â€I didn't get to play in my football match last weekend,â€ said disappointed eight-year-old Jake. I asked him why and he told me, â€œIt's because I miss so many training sessions and, if you don't make training every weekend, then you are not allowed to play in the matches.â€ I wondered why he missed so many training sessions and he averted his gaze as he replied, â€œWell sometimes my Mam and Dad are hung-over from their Friday night drinks after work and they can't get up on time to take me.â€
It is often said that alcohol is a part of Irish culture. We identify with it and others identify us with it. And, while this may well be true, I believe our relationship with alcohol is a very complex one and our attitudes to out-of-control drinking in particular is something that we need to stop and take a look at. Because, it is not just alcohol but excessive drinking that has become an accepted part of our culture. It's time to take a look at our relationship with alcohol and challenge ourselves to break the cycle of passing a cultural acceptance of excessive drinking from one generation to the next.
I work with children and teenagers across a wide range of issues but something that I have observed, particularly over the last five years, is how attitudes and motivations around alcohol consumption have changed. It is not a new trend that young people engage in underage drinking, but I do see emerging trends that worry me greatly. The age young people engage in what we can describe as out-of-control drinking is getting younger - as young as 12 or 13 years of age. Young people I have spoken with describe their relationship with alcohol in an out-of-control way. They speak about drinking with the sole intention of getgin drunk, drinking in secret before they go to a party or a disco. This often means drinking a lot in a short space of time, meeting with other teenagers (some they know, others they may not) in public areas to get drunk. Many of them talk about sneaking alcohol from their parents' drinks cabinet and how they know which bottles get regularly replaced so their parents won't notice if they pour some out of it.
Fourteen-year-old Sophie once told me, â€œI always take the gin. I don't really like it but it's my Mum's favourite so she will just think she is the one who drank it. I wait until she has her friends around because that's when I can take gin and wine, as the next day she never knows how much they drank so empty bottles aren't suspicious."
It is very easy to call for tighter regulation of the alcohol industry, more control over prices of alcohol or more stringent ID requirements to purchase alcohol, but for every one of these valid calls I can give you real life anecdotes for how they will not stop young people drinking. Don't get me wrong, tighter regulation is certainly an important part of the solution, however, real and sustainable cultural and behavioural change also requires a change in public attitudes, motivations and ultimately behaviours and regulation alone will not achieve this.
We must work together to find a way that sends a clear message that drinking until you are out of control, cannot remember your actions or until your behaviour is negatively impacting on people you care about is neither fun nor normal.
It is important that we don't see out-of-control drinking solely as an issue for teenagers and students because this is absolutely not the case. Peers and parents, particularly amongst young people, heavily influence perceptions of 'normal drinking behaviour'. It is a fact that people are more likely to drink, to drink frequently and to drink to excess if they are exposed to a close family member, especially a parent, drinking or getting drunk.
Telling young people to not drink is not good enough. We have to lead by example and model a healthy relationship with alcohol, while highlighting its negative impact and how socially unacceptable out-of-control drinking is.
The success of the drink driving campaigns in bringing about a significant cultural shift in Irish society clearly shows that mass media, awareness raising, prevention and education, and initiatives that challenge certain behaviours as normal or acceptable are the most successful. To be fully successful, we need education to be coupled with wider societal education. Preventative measures and school programs often demonstrate positive limited-term effects, however, the impact is at risk of being lost once outside the education environment, when broader society pressures impact. For education to be wholly effective, we need to deliver a simultaneous change in the wider adult population, in other words we must lead by positive example.
This is why we are asking you to log onto www.rolemodels.ie and have your say in shaping the campaign that will stop out-of-control drinking once and for all.
Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent psychotherapy with over 15 years' experience working with children and families. She is a Child Attachment Specialist. She has served on the advisory board of the SAFE Ireland, and the NDVIA (National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency). She has served more than five years on the Board of Directors of Women's Aid Ireland. She was a founding board member of the Women's Therapy Centre. Joanna founded Solamh Parent Child Relationship Clinic in Dublin in October 2010.
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