‘Prinking’ and car-bars show how drinking culture is changing

Industry criticised for spending more on marketing than promoting responsible drinking

Activities such as “prinking” and having “car-bars” have become routine, showing how much our drinking behaviour has changed, a seminar on alcohol and youth heard at the weekend.

The seminar, organised by rural youth organisation Macra na Feirme, heard that pre-drinking, or drinking before going out, had become so common that it was referred to as prinking; car-bars referred to people bringing cheap alcohol in their cars when going out or away for the weekend, and returning to the car periodically to drink rather than buying the alcohol at the hotel or pub.

Macra na Feirme president Kieran O’Dowd said he had recently noticed the trend of members bringing slabs of beer and bottles of spirits to the organisation’s social events. “Simple economics mean that if it’s easy to get and it’s cheap, it’s a no-brainer that you would bring it with you.”

The National Youth Council of Ireland's director Mary Cunningham said the volume of drinking involved in pre-drinking was the most worrying aspect. "With pre-drinking, you are not drinking at home and then going out to have one [drink]. You are drinking at home and going out and drinking whatever you'd have drunk anyway, and then maybe coming back [and drinking more]."

She said the alcohol companies were pouring millions into advertising and some of the television ads were stunning. Research had found that five of the top 10 most-remembered advertisements for young people were selling alcohol.


“And yes, the alcohol industry is putting money into promoting positive messages [about responsible drinking], but alongside that, it’s spending close to 40 times that amount on advertising.”

She said alcohol-related harm in Ireland was costing the exchequer almost €3.5 billion a year, three times the 2014 budget for the Department of Agriculture.

Ms Cunningham said our alcohol problem was presented as something that affected a minority of people. “But the majority of Irish people who drink – and there are significant numbers who don’t drink at all – are drinking at levels that are damaging to their health.”

But Kathryn D'Arcy, director of Ibec's Alcohol Beverage Foundation of Ireland, said most people drank alcohol responsibly. "We're drinking less now than we did 13 years ago and that trend is continuing. Our teens are drinking less than they were . . . six years ago and we actually drink less than the French do."

Tolerance of abuse
She said the culture of tolerance for alcohol abuse must be addressed. "The drinks industry does not benefit from misuse. What we would much prefer is a long-term sustainable industry with a future."

Prof Máirtín Ó Fathaigh, an organisational learning and development consultant, asked if our history of being ruled by the British was a factor in our abuse of alcohol. He pointed to other groups with alcohol and substance abuse problems, such as Aboriginal people, Native Americans and Maori people. “I’m just wondering if it is part of a post-colonial legacy,” he said.

Macra na Feirme members attending the seminar in Limerick highlighted the difficulty for rural people who wanted to go out at night. “There’s absolutely no transportation,” said one. “So for the one time in the week or fortnight that you do get to town, that’s where a lot of the binge drinking is coming in.”

Another said she deliberately drove to the pub some nights so she would not be pressurised into drinking.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times