Language linked to relationship with alcohol

Young people’s drinking habits can escalate if introduced to alcohol at home

Use of words such as craic and “prinks” (pre-drinks) shows a level of denial and dysfunctionality around our approach to alcohol, a conference in Galway has heard.

And Irish parents who believe they can inculcate a sensible Mediterranean approach to alcohol in teenagers by introducing them to wine at home are only "hurtling them faster" into the heavy-drinking culture, the Western Region Drugs Task Force conference was told yesterday.

'Hold the line'
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth said parents should "hold the line" with their teenagers on not drinking alcohol for as long as possible, as long-term epidemiological studies in North America, Australia and New Zealand had found that young people's drinking habits only "escalated" when the brake was removed.

Dr Smyth was one of several speakers addressing the theme of "the culture of alcohol in homes" as part of the task force's drug and alcohol awareness week, which was opened by Minister of State for Health Alex White. Dr Smyth also advised parents not to verbalise their "need" for a glass of wine at home, as this was giving children the message that this is how adults deal with stress.

“Parents may feel they have little influence any more, due to the multitude of influences on teenagers from social networks, but the biggest single influence is still parental,” he said, even if teenagers did not care to admit same.


Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) sociologist Dr Mark Garavan said there was an "enormous denial" about how we mediated our experiences through alcohol, and one example of this was the use of the word craic.

Defining craic
"The term 'craic' is so coded around alcohol," he said. Just as the Inuits had so many different words for snow, so Irish people had the choice of very many "aggressive" terms to describe getting drunk, he noted, from getting hammered to smashed to out of our heads.

The trend towards “prinks” by young people at home before a function was another example of denial, Dr Garavan said, in that it suggested the practice of drinking at home before going out “wasn’t really drinking at all”.

"If we are to switch our language and refer to it as self-harming, the majority of people who drink in Ireland are self-harmers," Dr Garavan said. The use of the term "self medicate" also allowed the "dysfunctionality to become more visible", he said.

Alcohol abuse
The tendency to categorise issues such as alcohol abuse and mental illness in "silos" meant we were failing to make the link between alcohol abuse and child abuse, Dr Garavan said. Perhaps it was time to ask why we need alcohol to "celebrate, mourn, gather and endure each other's presence", he said.

Trinity College Dublin research associate Dr Ann Hope said poor public policy had contributed to the current situation. Research in Australia and New Zealand on the impact of drinking at home had shown that harm caused to others by heavy drinkers was as detrimental as harm caused to themselves. In an Irish context, this would mean that the €3.5 billion cost of alcohol abuse could be doubled to €7 billion, she said. See

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times