TERRY PRONE: When you admit you’re teetotal you’ll be met by a chorus of booze

Cirrhosis, which used to be a disease of old men, is now frequently seen in young women

Designated Driver is useful cover. You can say you’re not drinking and everybody just moves on, writes Terry Prone

The curious thing is that when women give up alcohol, they can’t get over it.

It’s such a breach with the natural order of things, or at least the natural order of their things, that it somehow inveigles itself into unrelated conversations.

Thus it was, last week, chatting to a top executive in a multinational corporation, that she suddenly told me she and her husband had given up the drink for the last two years.

Not that they’d ever had a problem, she added.

Not really. Just at the weekend, Netflix and a couple of bottles of wine, you know yourself.

Then one of them suggested to the other that maybe they weren’t giving the best example to their teenage twins.

He — because it was the husband — fended off incipient resistance on her part by agreeing, before he was asked to, that neither of them had ever been falling-down drunk in front of their 16-year-olds.

Never. It was just, she filled in, the word “relaxation” was never uttered in their house without alcohol attached. Ditto the word “socialising.”

“It’s probably too late to give good example now,” she said sadly. “But better late than never, right?”

Right on both counts. Relatively few of the teenagers and young adults who seriously abuse alcohol come from non-drinking families.

The old “Do as I Say, not as I Do” device has never worked where alcohol is concerned.

But quitting alcohol completely, if the couple does it right, could acquaint their kids with the mind-blowing concept that a happy, successful and intensely social life is possible in the absence of alcohol.

Possible? Nay, probable. More probable, in fact, than with alcohol added.

The other person who announced her departure from the alcohol lounge last week is around the same age as the couple mentioned: late thirties, early forties.

Alcohol has been her friend since her teens and has wrecked more than one relationship, because of her tendency, in the late Carrie Fisher’s words, to “take a dinner party hostage”once she had a few on board.

Which she always ensured she did, by priming her personal pump before leaving her apartment.

Her reason for quitting?

The fact that gin is making a comeback. You may not have noticed the hard marketing round the drink which, historically, has done more spectacular damage to the poor of one generation than arguably any other, but it’s going on, and with some anecdotal success.

“I suddenly realised I was saving all these gin supplements from newspapers,” my informant said.

“Worse, I was reading them and stocking up on gin and on the various additions that are supposed to make it contemporary.”

By “contemporary”, I assumed she meant that the way gin is now being marketed moves it from being the half-remembered G&T of leather-faced elderly Brits who used to live in the colonies.

So appealing was its new currency, that, in addition to studying the freebie glossy marketing material and acting upon it, she was discussing the new trend with her peers.

Gin, they agreed, is a thing.

She has no idea what decided her to give away her newly purchased bottles of gin and tonic, bitter lemon and other accompaniments to friends, but, on a self preservative instinct, that’s what she did, to their delighted puzzlement.

She, on the other hand, admits that she’s now struggling with the emptiness of days without the promise of a tall glass of something alcoholic as a reward or as a de-stressor at the end of every day.

The other struggle she’s having is telling her friends that she’s given up the booze.

It’s a struggle because although she feels better without it and wants to be teetotal, she is finding that announcing yourself to be a non-drinker, in this country at this time, makes you only marginally more popular than Typhoid Mary.

“You used to drink, didn’t you?” she asked me. I nodded. “What did you tell your friends when you gave it up?”

“I gave it up when I was seventeen, so most people assumed I’d never drunk alcohol in the first place.”

Which is not to say that I didn’t have problems as a non-drinker.

Non-drinkers have just as many problems as drinkers do, although they have the advantage of not killing you.

When I cut out the booze, it was in the distant past, long before the Designated Driver was invented, for the very good reason that as long as people could lurch to their cars, it was considered only grand that they should drive home.

The Designated Driver role is a useful cover for the non-drinker.

They can say thanks but they’re driving everybody else so tonight they’re not drinking, and everybody moves on.

But before that role was developed, a teetotaler at a party was like a weird cross between a Revenue Commissioner and a nun: out to get the drinkers on moral grounds and always watching.

If you were a teenager, the drinkers believed it was their duty to enforce the rite of passage whereby you would puke your way to adulthood.

If you were older than a teenager, what the hell was wrong with you?

Having survived those years, sober and unbowed, I was startled to find that drinker-terrorism still exists.

I found out watching the TV series Can’t Cope Won’t Cope where two young women from Cork but working in Dublin commit themselves to supporting the alcohol industry in so big a way that the definitive photograph from the programme is one of the two of them knocking back shots.

The moment of drinker-terrorism happens when a female American visitor is cross hackled by one of the main characters when she says, on a night out, that she’ll have orange juice or coffee rather than alcohol.

Oh, is she on antibiotics, comes the question. Followed by unsubtle pressure to be one of the group and get outside something alcoholic.

Eventually, the non-drinker is forced into confession of being an alcoholic because the young woman in front of her cannot imagine that someone on a night out would not set out to get themselves locked.

If the two drinkers in that series follow a pattern I’m seeing, they’ll have decided to give up the booze before it becomes a dominant problem in their lives, or, having recognised that it IS a dominant problem, have gone through a 12-step programme and be sussing out other problem drinkers to bring them to a meeting.

Smokers seem to give up around 30.

Drinkers a decade later. Although, to give them their pathetic due, committed smokers don’t harass those who’ve quit, trying to persuade them to re-offend.

The RCPI, having already established that cirrhosis, which used to be a disease of old men, is now frequently seen in young women, might turn their powerful attention to the deep-rooted anger within drinkers directed at those who don’t drink.

Although Amanda Byram may single-handedly have tipped the scales, no pun intended, when she recently announced she was teetotal because alcohol poses such a weight-gain threat. Let’s hope she also tells drink-terrorists to back the hell off.

On her own and all teetotalers’ behalf.


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