When I was a child, both my parents were in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. Thirty or 40 years ago, almost everyone in Ireland knew about the Pioneers and a fair few were members. I’d guess that if you mentioned the Association to a group of young people today, there’d be a few blank expressions.
My 28-year-old son and his wife are both Pioneers and there’s been quite a bit of curiosity from others about their Pioneer pins and what being a Pioneer involves. People are genuinely interested in why someone would make a decision not to drink alcohol. When they hear that it’s a lifelong commitment, they can be gobsmacked.
The mission and vision of the Pioneers is to address the problems in society caused by excess alcohol consumption and drug usage. This is achieved through faith and prayer, self-denial, example, advocacy and activities based on presenting alternatives to people, especially young people.
One of the key events coming up in April is the 21st National Ball which also involves a full week-end of activities. There are other social occasions scattered throughout the year. For those who don’t drink or who are trying to cut down, it’s the social occasions, concerts, weddings and festivals which can be most challenging especially if deciding not to drink alcohol is a recent decision.
I used to quite enjoy a drink myself until just over a year ago when, because of a brush with cancer and the necessity to take regular medication, I decided to part ways with my old friend.
Part and parcel
I wasn’t someone who drank much but, like many Irish people, I viewed alcohol as part and parcel of every social occasion. Whether it was a cold bottle of cider on a hot summer’s day, a mulled wine at Christmas or just a relaxing glass of a good red on a quiet night at home, alcohol was part of the deal.
When I decided that I was going to give it a miss completely, there was a period of adjustment.
The first thing I noticed was a totally different mindset about what a good night involved.
The local pub, even if there were a few musicians playing, just didn’t hold the same appeal anymore, and a concert, film or show seemed more exciting than a rowdy session.
I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted when offered a slim flute of prosecco, which I love, or when holidaying in Portugal last August where the range of scrumptious-looking cocktails was eye-popping.
However, now that I’ve had no alcohol at all for a year, I don’t find it too difficult. In many ways it’s been a very positive experience.
One very beneficial thing about not drinking alcohol is the fact that you might have to put a little bit more effort into your social life and what you do with your time.
When you’re married, you often pick up a DVD and a bottle of your favourite wine and that’s your night sorted.
If you have small children, a drink might be viewed as a sign that your stressful day is over and it’s time to relax and put your feet up. Having a glass or two every night can easily become a habit.
Once you give up, you’re inclined to seek out natural highs; I joined the gym and my energy levels increased dramatically as well as my general sense of well-being and mood. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing but I used to find that, even after one drink in the evening, I was a lot more groggy and lethargic the next day.
When you have several children and a busy home to run any renewed energy and vigour is always a bonus. Surprisingly though, or maybe not surprisingly, the main positive consequence has to do with my children.
Having a parent, older sibling or grandparent who abstains from alcohol sends out a very important message, a message that says that drinking alcohol is not a necessity. My eldest daughter is 17 and is often mistaken for being older. From the age of 15, there’s been a presumption that she probably takes a drink. Instead of “Do you drink?”, the question has frequently been “Red or white?”
Strangely enough, even though my husband and I were drinkers, none of my children drink. In our present-day society, that’s quite unusual.
There are very good reasons why young people shouldn’t drink. Research shows that the adolescent brain responds differently to alcohol compared to an adult brain.
Because the brain isn’t fully developed until around 25 years old, adolescents are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour and binge drinking. In a worst-case scenario, binge drinking slows, and can actually stop the operation of key components of the brain that control things like breathing.
When parents lecture children about the dangers of drinking, it’s going to ring hollow if the parents’ own relationship with alcohol proves that it really is something we can’t live without.
Not every young person will join the Pioneers or take up the interesting challenge I found on Facebook of ‘One Year, No Beer’ which supports people in going a full year or less without alcohol, but following a parent’s example they might re-evaluate the place alcohol has in their lives and whether their relationship with drink is a positive contributor to their overall health and happiness.