Reviews Soundings

Drink! Drink! Drink!

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 16 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1077
  1. Liam Farrell, general practitioner, Crossmaglen, County Armagh
  1. 1County Armagh

    In Ireland we love our funerals. George Best's could not live up to the media hype, but it was still pretty big, the biggest since that of the hunger striker and MP Bobby Sands. Both were wasted, self destructive lives; one drank himself to death, the other starved himself to death, though I don't think either man would enjoy the comparison.

    While starving yourself to death for your country remains relatively uncommon, drinking yourself to death is epidemic in Ireland. We have made the devil's bargain: in return for lubricating every social occasion, one in every six people in Ireland is miserable because either he or she or a member of their family is alcoholic.

    It seems that nothing can happen in Ireland without alcohol, no wedding, no funeral, no christening. The recent Ryder Cup, held in County Kildare, was a classic example. It is always nice to see members of the petite bourgeoisie enjoying themselves, but watching golfer Darren Clarke celebrate by sculling pints of stout in 10 seconds flat and the Europe team captain Ian Woosnam drooling champagne down his nose was disconcerting. Not only is the sight of drool and slobber glistening slickly on Pringle sweaters aesthetically repugnant, it also sends out the wrong message: to celebrate properly, you must get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible.

    I see the ravages of alcoholism every day in the surgery, yet there is still the occasional and radiant miracle: they can get better.

    Five years ago, Joe was a wreck of a man on a downward slide. His family were at the end of their tether, his health was failing, he had no job, no money, no prospects, and no hope.

    This morning he bounced into the surgery, full of beans, talking about his next holiday and looking forward to his daughter's graduation. It made me feel good just to look at him. And his cure was simple; he began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and he gave up alcohol. Simple but hard, because in Ireland alcohol is in your face for every moment of every day.

    Those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous have a chance. They share the fellowship and they learn the practical messages, namely, stay out of pubs, don't keep alcohol in the house, and stay away from temptation. They see others who have achieved sobriety, inspiring examples that there is a great victory to be won, a golden, fulfilling new life waiting for them.

    “Five years sober, doc,” he said proudly, “but it's still one day at a time.” “Don't take up golf,” I advised.

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