Colette Sheridan: Life without the pub? Downside of virus-induced home drinking

Why not use this time to reassess attitudes towards alcohol — and to give it up? So says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Colette Sheridan: Life without the pub? Downside of virus-induced home drinking

WINE O’CLOCK: Many have swapped the pub for the living room in lockdown. Picture posed by model

WE need to talk about drink.

In this time of a global pandemic that occupies our every waking hour thanks to wall to wall coverage in the media, it is not surprising that people are reaching into the drinks cabinet, now that the pubs are closed until August, to cope with this frightening virus.

In the past, many Irish people rarely drank at home. The pub was one’s second living room. It was a place of refuge, particularly suited to people who like to live in a bubble, drinking to forget or to celebrate.

It was almost a sacrosanct space, where one could socialise or, for the misery-laden, drown one’s sorrows, safe in the knowledge that one would be left to do just that.

Traditionally, the pub was for men but thankfully, women moved out of the snug and took their rightful place at the bar counter, ordering pints or whatever they fancied. (The feminist movement in Ireland made sure that women could have whatever the men were having.) Not for them a bottle of red lemonade, a packet of crisps and heaps of patience as the women of olden times experienced the pub.

I’m writing in the past tense because the pub is in danger of dying a death — as if coronavirus wasn’t already doing enough killing.

The Health Minister, Simon Harris, has suggested that pubs could not return to normal until a coronavirus vaccine is available. Talk about a sobering prospect.

In a country where off-licenses are allowed to remain open as presumably an essential service in this time of privation, there is no doubting the importance of drink here.

But cognisant of that strange (but now, oh so familiar) phenomenon known as ‘social distancing’, the powers-that-be are aware that it’s not the kind of thing that could be practised in pubs with any ease. (If it could be practised in large bars, it would, however, result in a financial toll.)

This is bad news for drinkers, publicans and bar-workers. The industry employs about 50,000 people, the vast majority of whom have lost their jobs in the pandemic.

Drinkers can imbibe at home but at what cost? The sale of take-home booze in the four weeks leading up to April 5 was nearly 40% higher than it was in the same period last year. Some €158million was spent on drink during this time.

The biggest growth was in take-home stout, with people trying to replicate the pub experience by drinking pints of plain on the couch. That seems wrong on so many fronts.

Quite apart from the substantial financial outlay on drink at this difficult time, there are the health implications.

Chairman of The Addiction Counsellors of Ireland, Sean Harty, is reported as saying that alcohol misuse has always been a public health issue “but it will now become a public health emergency”. He added: “We’re going to go from one pandemic to another. We are in for a tsunami of issues following this pandemic.”

Drinking at home isn’t social drinking, particularly now because we’re in lockdown. It tends to become a daily crutch and sometimes, people drink to get drunk in their homes as opposed to enjoying the conviviality of the pub.

Half of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a means to cope with stress, anxiety or just to lighten up. But the downside is that drinking to cope with these feelings or to feel happier, tends to have the opposite effect.

It’s a slippery slope, as what starts with one generous glass of wine quickly degenerates into the consumption of the whole bottle. Often, a second bottle will be opened.

If there are children at home, over-drinking is setting a poor example. And abuse of booze is also often a factor in the mistreatment of children.

What I’m going to say next will go down like a lead balloon, but why not use this time to reassess attitudes towards alcohol — and to give it up?

You might think you have enough to contend with than attempting to embrace sobriety, but really, the clear head in the morning is ample compensation for a night spent guzzling drink.

It’s liberating. Take it from one who knows.

I’d have been first in the queue outside my nearest off-licence on foot of the announcement of the lockdown in my drinking days. Now, coffee and chocolate are my drugs of choice.

Not very exciting, you might say. But any ‘excitement’ generated from alcohol is false and is totally absent the following morning.

All you’ll be left with is a throbbing headache and a hazy memory from the night before.

And more pertinently, alcohol abuse is bad for your immune system, thereby putting drinkers more at risk from serious illness if they catch coronavirus.

So stay well and choose health. After all, isn’t that what we’re all chasing?

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