Students, rather famously, like a drink. Whether you hit up Dicey’s for a carvery, two pints and change for a tenner, wash down your Amber Leaf with Tesco Value lager in a cold, dirty house at predrinks, or regularly post Instagram stories of “cocktails with the girls” in Pygmalion, chances are alcohol is at the heart of your student social life. This is why you should really take note of the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill that is currently being brought in by the government.
This legislation will see new minimum pricing for alcohol, with a bottle of wine now set to cost a minimum of around €7.50 (!), a 70cl of Gordon’s gin a whopping €20.71, while a tin of the iconic Dutch Gold will never again be found for less than €1.58. The reasoning behind this legislation is that an increase in price will translate into a reduction in consumption. The idea is that we will see a healthier, happier Irish population.
This move is totally misguided – and not just because I categorically refuse to pay more than €4 for Lidl’s horrific Conde Noble red wine (I learnt on Erasmus to make it drinkable by mixing it with coke to make calimocho, a drink popular among university students in Spain).
Over half of us think excessive drinking is no big deal
We obviously have a problem with alcohol in this country. Over half of us think excessive drinking is “no big deal”. Alcohol consumption trebled between 1960 and 2001 – and it’s still increasing. More than half of Irish drinkers are “harmful drinkers”. A 2014 World Health Organisation survey placed us second of 194 countries in a survey of binge drinking rates. The survey report showed that about four in 10 of us have engaged in binge drinking in the last month. These are sobering facts indeed.
Even more sobering, however, are the statistics around mental health in this country. We have among the highest rates of teen suicide in Europe. There has been an 15 per cent increase in self-harm in Irish men in the last ten years, which alone is a troubling statistic. Around 200,000 Irish people suffer from eating disorders, which are the most fatal of all mental illnesses. Closer to home, the Trinity counselling service is insanely oversubscribed. Last year, there was a near 20 per cent increase in the number of emergency appointments. In the past, it could take up to six weeks to see a counsellor – far too long for someone facing serious mental health issues. Ten per cent of students in Trinity use the counselling services, with 1,750 one-to-one counselling appointments used last year.
Irish people, and Irish students, drink for a reason. They do not drink just so they can tag their friends in funny gin-related memes on Facebook, or so they become mildly internet famous on the Humans of the Sesh Facebook page. This is not just about student life being summed up by the culture of the can. It’s also about the wider mental health crisis that is permeating every level of Irish society: it’s about swallowing up the anguish with cheap wine, tins of terrible lager or Aldi-brand vodka.
It’s about swallowing up the anguish with cheap wine, tins of terrible lager or Aldi-brand vodka
So I’m angry with the government for, yet again, skirting the real issue: the fact that for so many people in Ireland, life just isn’t very liveable. Increasing the price of alcohol is a useful distraction – a way of being seen to take action. But really, charging 70 cent more for a 70cl of Smirnoff is like putting a Band Aid on a third-degree burn. In practice, what is really going to change? Will we stop drinking ourselves silly just because it’s a little more expensive? Since I’ve started in College, I’ve seen rent prices go from the €500 to €550 bracket to the €600 to €650 mark – it’ll take more than this new bill to stop us drinking ourselves into oblivion every Thursday night.
Whatever you think of him, Russell Brand, the flamboyant, self-styled “man of the people”, actually speaks an awful lot of sense on this issue. Substances, says Brand, are not the problem. Reality is the problem, and substances are the solution. Increasing the price of a naggin is not the solution – not by a long shot. Because even after drinking your now-50-cent-more-expensive beverage, reality will not go away. Your problems and your pain are still there, whether that is looming rent to be paid, a 3,500 word essay that you just cannot seem to get started on or the eternal dilemma of whether you’re being ghosted (you probably are… sorry). Reality bites, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face it. At its core, this is not an issue for legislation, but for conversation.