By Grainne McCool @GrainneMcCool
THERE is a new trend and its bucking the old, familiar, rule-breaking fads – the young people who abstain from booze.
You might say, that’s not very rock ‘n’ roll – but could this be a new concept – that it is rock ‘n’ roll to choose exactly how you want to be and not fall in with the crowd.
In Ireland, there is no doubt that making the choice not to drink alcohol, is particularly difficult, because we have a culture built on booze-induced ‘craic’.
But perhaps it has become such a part of our national pscyhe, that some of the younger generation have learned the lessons we failed to.
My 17-year-old son, Ultan, is one such example. “How’s it going to feel not being able to buy your youngest son a pint on his 18th birthday?” he asked his father recently.
Ultan’s older brothers had both confessed they had drank alcohol at the ages of just 16 and 18. We appreciated their honesty.
We told our children they we would never buy them a drink, until the legal age. We kept our word.
On their 18 birthdays, both boys were treated to a pint from their father.
But the baby of the family, Ultan, won’t be accepting a pint from dad for his forthcoming 18th in January.
“I have no interest in drinking and I don’t need it to enjoy myself. I want to always be in control of my actions,” he said.
It’s a rather sobering thought – and one many adults fail to adopt every single weekend across this country.
My youngest son has always been teetotal.
He watched his two older brothers as they enjoyed their ‘wild’ 18th birthday parties to celebrate their ‘coming of age’.
Ultan has very different plans. He won’t be the one behind the living room being filled with hungover bodies, stinking of alcohol.
But although a big part of me is impressed by my son’s conviction – part of me is concerned.
What about when he journeys off to college next year. Will he be the odd one out?
Drinking is a huge part of the social scene at college. It is seen as a rite of passage by many.
Bars even capitalise on this, a major part of youth culture, putting on drinks promotions for students and house parties cause many headaches for neighbours across the country, as Freshers Week gets under way.
But my son says this doesn’t worry him – he is convinced the other young abstainers will be close by.
And, in fact, it appears he could be right.
There seems to be an increasing number of young people who are turning their backs on booze in Donegal.
Perhaps they have learnt from the mistakes of those before them, or perhaps they just feel that alcohol is overrated.
18-year-old David Doherty, an engineering student from Muff, Co Donegal, has chosen to steer clear of alcohol, yet still balances a healthy social life combined with a part-time job and college in Derry.
“From a very young age, I have always had a keen interest in cars and driving,” he said.
“When I was younger all I wanted to do was drive and I successfully passed my test as soon as I turned 17.
“I would much rather drive than drink when I am going somewhere with my friends.
“I have absolutely no problem with drink and I have nothing against it or those who consume it; I just never had any interest in drinking.”
David said he had not ever felt peer pressure either to drink, adding: “No, I was never one to be influenced by the decision of others.
“I have always done what I have wanted to do for myself and I’ve learned that you can still have the craic on a night out, sober.”
David is part of a generation that binge drinks on a regular basis.
For many drinking dangerously high amounts of alcohol has become the norm.
But for this young man, this behaviour doesn’t seem to have any appeal.
“I think it’s a bit over-the-top and surely it can’t be healthy doing the same thing every weekend.
“But a lot of people are doing it to give them confidence on a night out or to stop them being shy.
“Thankfully, I have never had these problems.”
Dayna Molloy, 18, from Quigleys Point, Co Donegal, is also teetotal. She is currently in her second year of a bioscience degree at Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
It seems that being a student has not influenced her to turn to drink either.
“I have always been teetotal. I’ve never been interested in drinking and I’ve never felt the need to do so. I enjoy my nights out without drinking,” she said.
“I go out quite a bit and always enjoy my nights out even if that is me sipping on a 7up while everyone else is drinking alcohol trying to get drunk.
“Drinking does not hold me back from talking and socialising with others.
“People that drink sometimes tell me to ‘Just take a few drinks, get a little tipsy,’ and say that it’ll take the edge off.
“I feel that I don’t need to take the edge off. I have confidence to talk to anyone when I’m out.”
As a mother, I was worried my son would be swimming against the tide by being teetotal at college next year.
I am anxious his peers will pressure him into drinking when it isn’t something he wants.
Dayna admitted that she sometimes feels isolated because of her choice to abstain from drink.
“When it comes to ‘pre-drinks,’ I can feel isolated, as everyone else is playing drinking games in order for them to be ready for the nightclub. I feel ready for the nightclub once I’m dressed up.
“I sit with my soft drink, or maybe even no drink at all, watching friends play these games and appearing as the odd one out.
“During the ‘pre-drinks,’ I think about why I do not drink.
“I find these games silly and I cannot understand the point. Yes, I know the point is to get drunk but why?
“Why not socialise without having to get drunk? Why do nights out have to revolve around alcohol?
“I don’t think the current drinking culture is cool. There are very few people my age that do not drink.
“The idea of people without a drink in their hand is seen as boring. When I’m out I definitely don’t have a boring time and people are often very shocked to find out that I don’t drink.
“People regularly say they had such a good night and that they cannot even remember it.
“Well how was it a good night if they cannot remember what was good about it? I prefer to remember my night and to know exactly what I’m doing when I am out. Plus its safer.”
Another teenager – whose name is changed because of some of the personal information she has provided – has opened up about not wanting to drink, for a very different reason.
Julia O’Brien, 17, from Dun Laoghaire, told Ireland Today, she has chosen to abstain for two important reasons in her life.
“One reason is down to my history,” Julia said. “My grandfather was an alcoholic and I know that had a very bad effect on my mam and my granny.
“I can’t remember that much about him because he passed away when I was younger but I do remember him being drunk and him not really bothering much with me.
“I also know he was bad to my granny, hitting her and making her very afraid.
“I know that when my mum talks about him, even though it was all years ago, I can still see pain in her eyes.
“I don’t want to end up like that – and I don’t want to cause hurt to my granny or mam.
“I think anyone could end up an alcoholic and I’m worried I’m predisposed to it because of my granddad.”
Another reason the young woman doesn’t wish to drink is to retain her individuality and sense of reason.
“Nearly everyone I know is getting drunk and they have been for quite some time.
“They are under age and they still don’t know how to make real, educated choices in their lives, yet they get drunk out of their heads in the name of fun.
“I know some girls who have had sex way too early and it hasn’t meant anything because they were drunk.
“They should have waited to meet someone who actually cared about them, who they loved. It’s all kind of sad.
“I just don’t want to be like that either. I want the decisions I make to matter and to have made them because I wanted to, not because I was too out of my head to know what I was doing.”
I was brought up by strict, Catholic, pioneer parents. I was never allowed to drink under age, or even when I was of age for that matter.
Even at 18, I was sneaking into the house having consumed a glass of beer or two (maybe more).
I was determined that when I had children, I would want them to tell me they were drinking when it happened.
I didn’t want to be the parent whose child was drinking behind their back and everyone else knew except me. It was something I felt very strongly about.
Speaking with these young people has instilled a new-found confidence in me, that there are teenagers out there who are just like my son.
Ultan is definitely in the minority as a teetotaler but maybe with an increasing number, who are opting for tea or water, instead of yet another vodka or whisky, our culture might just be on the brink of change.
I am certainly very proud of my son’s ability to stand up and think for himself – that he has the ability to say ‘No’.
Dayna Molloy said more young people should consider one matter – that they too could “Be the shepherd and not the sheep”.
Perhaps it can be cool to be teetotal after all.