The bleak sight of back to the booze…

We went out for an early dinner on the Dublin Road in Belfast last night. Turning into Ventry Street, a young guy staggered down the middle of the street, clutching his empty 2-litre bottle of cheap cider. Completely oblivious to cars or people, he was impressively drunk for 5 pm in the day.

We got a table by the window, which gave us a good vantage point to watch the various goings-on. Young guys carrying cases of Budweiser, drunk women walking barefoot, all human life was there. The poor old Dublin Road is pretty run down these days and Great Victoria St is a bleak shadow of its Golden Mile former glory with lots of empty shops and vacant spaces. It is not uncommon to come accross needles and other drug paraphenalia in the area.

Humans have been getting off their faces since time memorial, but it can still be a sad sight to see so many young people completely wasted on drink and drugs in the middle of the day. At 1 am it must be really bedlem.

We do love the booze in Northern Ireland. In 2019 we had 336 alcohol-related deaths, more than a third higher than a decade ago and an 18% increase on 2018. Alcohol consumption was up during the pandemic as more people got blocked at home, so I can imagine the figures for 2020 might be even higher. Then you all the assosiated crime, violence and domestic abuse that comes with the drink, not to mention the massive resources of the police, ambulance and hospitals it takes up. It is also very common these days for people to mix alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs – this really messes people up.

People take Alcohol and drugs for self medication, to forget their troubles for a while, but as every drinker knows the hangover the next day always snaps you back to reality.

The death rate is more than three times higher in NI’s most deprived areas – it is another sign of our sick society. Unresolved trauma and abuse, economic and social problems feed into a culture of reaching for the bottle or the tablets. And it does not matter if you are quaffing the finest wiskey in your conservatory or necking cheap cider on a street corner – booze is booze.

To be clear most people who drink do not have a problem. Pubs are an important part of our culture and night-time economy – moderate social drinking with friends can be a positive experience. But still, when you see a 14-year-old lying unconscious in a pool of his own vomit you can’t help but think we as a society have failed him.

Photo by jarmoluk is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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