Teetotal twenty-somethings

Young Irish people have a reputation for heavy drinking – and the stats back it up

Young Irish people have a reputation for heavy drinking – and the stats back it up. But there are some who don’t indulge, for religious, health or personal reasons. Three of them explain why

THEY ARE OUT there. Despite the perception that prevails of a society filled with crazy Rag weeks, wild J1 summer holidays and booze-filled music festivals, there are young Irish people who, for a variety of reasons, never drink alcohol.

In a country associated with heavy drinking, people in their 20s are often depicted as the worst alcohol abusers. However, a small number abstain from alcohol while still enjoying everything else that a hectic social life can offer.

According to an Alcohol Action Ireland study, between 5 and 6 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds never drink.


Barry Drumm, a 22-year-old student from Dublin, goes to pubs and nightclubs as often as anyone else but has never seen any reason to mix that with alcohol. “I have no problem socialising without drinking. It’s just something I never did; there was no real decision. Maybe I will when I’m older, but so far the thought has never crossed my mind.”

Drumm attends university in Belfast and plays basketball for the Ulster Elks in the Irish Superleague. For him, sport has always been an easy alternative to drunkenness.

“I remember the night of my Junior Cert results I had Superleague training and I was just so happy to be allowed train with them I never thought of missing that to go drinking.”

The influence of outside cultures on Ireland means young Irish people now have a variety of reasons not to drink. Mohamed Ballal is a 21-year-old medical student from Kerry. He is also a Muslim and does not drink alcohol despite an active social life.

“Personally, I think it is just a huge waste of money. I can have the craic without drinking, so why would I? If you have great craic on a night out and can’t remember it then I kind of think, ‘what’s the point?’

“Muslims are not allowed to drink. It’s actually considered the worst sin we can commit – because when you think of all the other horrible sins that could be committed, drinking is seen as a sin that could lead you to unwittingly commit those sins and now you’ve done something terrible and not remembered it or not known what you were doing at the time.”

DERMOT FAGAN from Mullingar is 27 and has spent his 20s sober. “My father ran the parish centre and me and all my brothers joined the pioneers around the time we were in sixth class. The others didn’t stay involved and aren’t pioneers today but I enjoyed it and kept it up,” says Fagan.

Often, young people feel the need to drink just to be sociable. Naturally, being a non-drinker in a social world that often revolves around drinking means their experiences are slightly different from most. However they all agreed that it has not adversely affected their social lives.

“I went to college in Athlone. I had a reasonable social life but it wasn’t hectic or anything. I guess the people I socialised with tended not to be that heavy drinkers anyway,” says Fagan.

For Mohamed, going to nightclubs and pubs is necessary if he wants to keep up with his friends, but he doesn’t find that his not drinking has an adverse effect.

“Most of my friends do like going to pubs and bars a lot and for me I just think of it as going to a friend’s house to hang out.

“People always say that, for a sober person on a night out, I’m lots of fun. I guess I could take that either way – as an insult that soberness is boring, or as a compliment that I’m a fun person anyway. I always take it as a compliment.”

It is still relatively rare to have a young person who never drinks any alcohol in this society. Fagan finds that older friends whom he may know through work or family “find it a lot more difficult to understand and accept than younger people”.

Certainly, abroad, the thought of an abstaining young Irish person might stop many foreigners in their tracks. Drumm notes that the American player on his Ulster Elks team “is still trying to get his head around the fact that I just never drink, even when we’re all out in a nightclub”.

Despite what it may look like from the outside, the young Irish non-drinker is not a mythical being and, what is more, they are not excluded from Irish social life.