My 15 yr old daughter got results this week for her Junior Certificate exams sat last June. Here is an accompanying letter with the results. Not from the school or the state examinations commission but from the police.
National angst over teenage binge drinking post Junior Cert is of course an annual past time.
Apparently Irish teenagers drink about the same amount as their european counterparts, but when they do drink they tend to binge. Cheap and available alcohol means you can get hammered on a budget.
It’s comfortable for us oldies to shake their heads and tut about the excesses of youth. But teenage drinking doesn’t happen in isolation. Alcohol is also the drug of choice for Irish adults and drinking to excess is a recreation (or addiction) of a significant proportion.
So it’s not only the occasional binge drinking of 15 yr olds that is a regular threat to law and order. It’s often the young who suffer – one survey puts it at about 10% of children are negatively affected by parental drinking.
I guess there are lots of complex reasons for Ireland’s long love affair with alcohol. The old idea that there was nothing else to be doing in an evening in the country but drink and socialise at your local doesn’t really carry these days. And you can hardly say we aren’t educated about what alcohol does.
Peer pressure in a culture that equates alcohol with fun? Hedonism of a materialistic culture? Experiential consumerism – the high of excess? Nihilistic boredom with reality, with ourselves? Low cost drink? Other reasons?
But one thing stays true: drinking isn’t just the free autonomous individual going out to enjoy him or herself – to celebrate what they have ‘earned’ and ‘deserve’ after exam results or whatever. We are intrinsically social beings. What we do impacts others as well as ourselves.
Maybe part of our relationship with alcohol is its illusion of freedom. And yet it’s hard to connect liberty with lying unconcious and half-dressed in a city street gutter.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Galatians 5:1 ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ Sure Paul hadn’t drink in mind, but there are many forms of slavery. The beauty of the gospel is that the Spirit sets people free. Free not for self-indulgence and to hell with others, but free to love, free to serve.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Gal 5:13)