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Column: Underage drinking and peer-pressure – a second-level student’s perspective

A few drinks now and then does little harm – but just because everybody else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to, writes Dónal Keane.

Dónal Keane

To mark Alcohol Awareness Week, Leaving Certificate student Dónal Keane discusses underage drinking culture and peer-pressure in Irish society.

THE DESIRE TO conform, to fit in, to be accepted as part of a group, is one that is common to all teenagers. What must be done in order to gain acceptance by one’s peers is not always consistent with the individual’s morals. However, if this behaviour is necessary to acquire ‘friendship’ then more often than not it is carried out for fear of being cast out, alone.

Underage drinking is nothing new in society, nor is it a phenomenon that is unique to Ireland. Where there exists a legal drinking age, there will be underage drinking. It is an undeniable state of affairs, which has been a part of life in the past, and will be for as long as the legislation regarding under-18s’ inability to purchase or consume alcohol remains in effect.

One-size fits all rule

I am unsure as to what causes the sudden onrush of maturity that overcomes people on their 18th birthday. People are marginally different than they were the day before, perhaps even months before. I understand that no two people are the same and that reasonable drinking ages can not be set on an individual basis. However, the one-size fits all rule at 18 gives rise to the aforementioned underage drinking.

Alcohol-consumption, in moderation at any age, is perfectly fine. The problem, is the culture of excess. Ireland is renowned globally for its alcohol abuse. A fact, which I do not feel we should be proud of. Due to the illegal nature of alcohol to youths, most teenagers have their first encounter with alcohol in some field or parent-free house. There is a strong chance that peer pressure will have played a part in this. Pushed on by ‘friends’, kids as young as 13 and 14 will consume far more that their bodies are capable of handling.

I don’t think that there can be any argument that it would be preferable for young people to have their first taste of alcohol in the family home, under parental supervision. Parents could at least make an attempt to explain the importance of sensible drinking to their offspring, rather than having them being egged-on to the point of alcohol poisoning in what would be more favourable company in their eyes.

A safe environment

Parents might not be the coolest people going in teenagers’ eyes but at least if they could get their first taste of alcohol out of their system in a safe environment, there is less of a chance that a stomach pumping will be required at a later stage. Fuddy duddies they may be, but I think that teenagers who have loving, trusting relationships with their parents are happier in all facets of life.

Excess is not the only problem when it comes to teenage drinking in Ireland, reliance on alcohol is equally as bad. I am a second-level student myself, and I can testify that all social gatherings succumb to a drearily formulaic routine. There seems to be a distinct inability for sober socialising in Ireland, not just among teenagers, but across all societal demographics.

I am not suggesting for a second that the entire population become teetotallers. I merely feel that is it a sad state of affairs that the social lubricant of alcohol is required for any kind of interaction at said events. What is even more depressing is the gloomy realisations of those who have decided to abstain from alcohol that without this magic relaxant they do not enjoy themselves as much but instead are more aware than usual of the typical idiotic antisocial drunken behaviour which accompanies alcohol consumption.

Expressing feelings without alcohol

A few drinks now and then does little harm. But all too often people do not  limit themselves to a few – that would be far too sensible. The live fast, die young mentality is a sure-fire way to die prematurely of liver failure. People have the right to enjoy their nights out without having to step around vomit/be vomited on/babysit their overly-inebriated companions. There is always the few who take things a naggin too far and end up putting a dampener on proceedings for everyone.

What worries me further still is the legitimacy of drunken conversations. Science has shown that people still have control over their actions while in an intoxicated state. This does not stop them from blaming their behaviour on the alcohol though. If people need external substances such as alcohol to ‘be themselves’ I question their mental health. It is said that drunken words are sober thoughts. Why shouldn’t people be able to express their feelings without the assistance of alcohol?

Macho bravado v common sense

One thing I will never understand is how people can say that they know they’ve had a good night because they were so sozzled they wake up criminally hungover the following morning and can’t remember a thing. This defies reason. There is a macho bravado when it comes to who can drink the most pints etc. All lunacy again. It requires a great degree of self-confidence and comfort with oneself to stay clear of the crowd and do things at one’s own pace. Consume as much alcohol as you like, provided you don’t behave in a way that will affect others’ enjoyment. Common sense is what’s needed when it comes to alcohol, in a serious way. And better examples from our elders wouldn’t go amiss.

Moreover, just because everybody else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. I guarantee that ‘uncool’ non-drinking friends who share your values and courage in defecting from the pack will offer you infinitely more in terms of friendship than image-conscious sheep who dare not deviate from the norm.

Dónal Keane is a sixth-year student.

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Dónal Keane

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