Reaction piece: alcohol and drugs survey

After the results of our drinks and drug survey, Quinton O’Reilly got the reaction of SU Welfare officer, Scott Ahearn and Manager of EDIT, Jerry McMahon

Scott Ahearn: SU Welfare Officer

When told about the results stating that 40 per cent of those surveyed drink two to three times a week, Ahearn stated that he wasn’t surprised saying that it represents student life and felt that the volume reflected the consumer aspect of student drinking.“The price is reflecting the survey. The consumption is reflecting the survey; that the cheaper the price, the more people drink and go out,” explains Ahearn. “Also you have to bear in mind off-licences as well. You can get a bottle of wine and which would represent four drinks in one night, which would cost about €7. There are a lot of variables regarding that survey.”Another statistic that Ahearn was concerned about was the percentage of students who experienced a moment where they couldn’t remember part or all of a night out. While concerned about it, he felt that these students could learn from their experiences: “I still think individuals need to learn lessons from when those occasions occur so they can learn their limits. So when you’re educating someone in terms of alcohol awareness so that they can testify that; they themselves know their limits.”However, he was adamant that society was the reason behind the university’s and country’s drinking problem. “Go to any major Irish town and you probably have more pubs than any other business. I come from a town where there are 55 pubs – double the amount of pubs than restaurants. It’s society and that’s where it comes from.”While saying that it was an unfortunate outlook that many students felt pressures to drink on a night out, Ahearn states that for those uninterested in drinking, “there are a lot of alternatives…I think it’s important that students realise that alcohol isn’t the central focus. It shouldn’t be the central focus. We’ve a very strong international presence of students here from different countries where, owing to religion, alcohol isn’t accepted. In some cases, it can be quite different from the people you surveyed.”Ahearn commented on the percentage of students admitting to taking drugs by saying that he found it: “Worrying. I think that’s quite worrying that 45 per cent have admitted they take drugs. It’s not a good thing,” he says. “In a lot of ways, the difference between alcohol and drugs is, drugs is illegal, alcohol is legal”

Jerry McMahon: Manager of Edenmore Drug Intervention Team (EDIT) & Chairperson of Dublin North East Drug Task Force (DNEDTF)

When notified about the results of the survey, McMahon felt that the statistics regarding feeling pressure to drink and not remembering part or all of a night out was more akin to general Irish life.“Student drinking is just one particular kind of reflection of a more general national problem. And, you know, for the challenge that we have either to find the courage some place else for our social interactions if we feel not as much at ease as we should feel,” said McMahon. “To find the courage to fit with that and address that problem is a challenge for all of us.”Through his experience in working with various addiction cases, McMahon felt that there was too great a focus on alcohol as social interaction not only among students but also in wider society.“If the next day were defining what constitutes a good night out, it’s not purely or particular or exclusive to students that a criteria that sometimes people apply is that they can’t remember half of that night,” he says. “They’re assuming because they can’t remember that it must have been a fantastic night and I see that right through all age-groups.”When asked for his opinion on the results regarding drug habits, McMahon said that the figures didn’t surprise him but did concern him. He warned about the dangers of drug addiction stating that many people only discover the side-affects “afterwards the hard way”.“Sometimes the person actually taking the drug is the last one to notice and certainly, very frequently, is the person most in denial about the downsides of taking drugs,” said McMahon. “But the same thing also applies to drugs as I said, about alcohol. The challenge to enjoy ourselves without misusing substances – be they alcohol or drugs.”Ultimately, McMahon feels that the only way to properly tackle both issues of alcohol and drug abuse is through openness and debate: “I think the issue is to increase awareness and to question ourselves more, individually and as a society, as to why we need to present such a risk to ourselves as individuals, and to our families, our friends, and our society. Why we have to take such a risky way to enjoy ourselves, and life.“What I advocate is open-debate and the complexities, particularly for something like cannabis, and whether it should be legalised or not legalised,” he says. “We should have much more of an open debate in Irish society, and maybe starting with the elephant in every room: our misuse of alcohol.”