One girl's story

 

Although the first time Sara (23) got drunk was the night of her Junior Cert results, it was when she went to college that she started drinking on a weekly basis. Now she realises "a lot of the college culture was actually based around alcohol".

During Freshers' Week there were different events on every evening and every day. She remembers "buy one, get one free" promotions and drinking competitions: "Everything was based in a pub, it was very much drink oriented." She went out four nights a week, sometimes during the day. She says there was a certain amount of peer pressure involved: "Everybody did it; if you weren't seen in the right places you weren't in with the in crowd."

Although she was aware she should only have 14 units of alcohol in a week, Sara admits "there have been occasions where I could have that in a night. But I didn't think there was anything wrong with it because everyone was doing it." Her college drinking peaked when she and friends "hit the bottle" to overcome the death of a friend: "It got to the point where we drank a bottle of vodka a night each."

When Sara started her first job she says there were a lot of work nights out where there was a free bar. Initially she went out just one night during the week, but then all weekend - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. After a broken relationship, Sara went out "on the pull" every night for six months with other female friends who drank as much as she did, before she was told she could lose her job if she didn't change her ways.

"We would go to work, get home from a nightclub at 3.30, get to bed, get up the next morning, shower, go to work smelling of alcohol, eat a packet of chewing gum, probably a breakfast roll on the bus and arrive home at 6 p.m., still so hung-over that we'd need a cure and go do it all again. We became trapped in a vicious circle of the buzz of going out - the drinking all night, the hangover and the cure - and that turned into the same cycle every day, seven days a week."

One-night-stands and unwanted pregnancy are also part of a female social drinker's life. Half a dozen female friends, colleagues and acquaintances of Sara's, "got trapped in unwanted pregnancies that would not have happened only for alcohol, because their inhibitions were down, they were feeling good, they met someone they thought they liked, never to see them again." All except one, she recalls, had abortions.

Sara has calmed down; she now knows what she wants from life. She still goes over 14 units a week, but says her socialising is restricted to two nights a week. "I can't do the three nights on the trot any more because I'm physically ill. I'm not able to. The hangovers are worse as I'm getting older. My liver's not able to take it. My head's not able to take it and more importantly my life depends on my career. I can't mess up and by drinking alcohol I'm not able to survive the next day."