That’s Men: If you have the willpower to drink, you have the strength to give up

Some years ago I got onto a flight in Berlin for a hopefully uneventful trip to Dublin. My seat was by the window. A young woman sat next to me. I could tell by her breath that she had been well boozed up the night before and that maybe the night had not long ended.

You know that horrible, rank, breath-taking, gut-wrenching smell when the alcohol seems to be rotting inside someone who hasn’t eaten or brushed their teeth? It was that sort of smell.

I tried not to breathe. That seemed to help but was not a sustainable solution. Then I tried to breathe very, very, very slightly so as to limit the impact. That was an improvement though keeping it up for a whole flight would be another matter.

German efficiency
The plane taxied out and stopped. We were in a queue of planes. No need to fret. German efficiency and all that, we'd be in the air in no time. Then the pilot announced that for technical reasons all flights were delayed and we would be waiting for one hour before take-off.


As I digested this news, my companion with the bad breath closed her eyes and fell asleep, directing gusts of fetid air into my face. I looked around desperately: all seats were taken. Escape was impossible.

I turned my face to the window and for the next hour breathed as lightly as I could while focusing on a misty view of a runway at Tempelhof Airport.

Eventually the plane took off and a couple of hours later my ordeal was ended. Since then I always sit in an aisle seat, though thankfully the experience was never repeated.

But I am not alone in having had this sort of experience in a cramped space. Kate, the author of the Sober Journalist blog (, suffered a similar fate on a train recently.

“This morning I was on a packed train to work when a very large man squeezed into the seat next to me,” she writes.

“Straight away I could smell it: the booze on his breath. It was horrible. It was worse when he looked or breathed in my direction, but I could actually smell it whichever way he faced. I think it was coming out of his pores.”

Because this was a train, a new element was added to the aesthetics of the experience: takeaway food.

“Things got considerably worse when he opened his bag and pulled out a hot McDonald’s breakfast. I don’t want to sound like a food snob here, but there’s something about the smell of McDonald’s food that really turns my stomach, especially at 8.30am. The seats on the tram were so small he was practically eating the food in my lap.”

Could have been her
Then she remembered that less than a year earlier this could have been her after waking up on the sofa at three in the morning having consumed beer and a bottle of wine to "relax".

A certain compassion for her unwelcome companion took hold: “The man on the train looked so tired. I remember feeling like that, like I could sleep for a week. Going to work with a secret hangover is tough.”

And she makes a point that had never occurred to me before, namely that people who drink too much must have a lot of willpower “because actually you have to be quite a strong person to cope with the hangovers, turn up to work on time and then repeat the process.”

When we read about people – mostly young people I guess – who down lots of shots before they go out drinking, it’s worth remembering that point. They have to be strong-willed to put themselves through such an unpleasurable drinking experience.

And it’s just as well that they’re strong-willed. A point will come, maybe sooner than they think, when they’re going to need all the will they can muster to get themselves out of the spiral a stupid drink culture has got them into.
Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living , is published by Veritas.