Author: 
CADCA’s Chairman and CEO General Arthur T. Dean

The Luck of the Irish: The Drinking Culture on St. Patrick’s Day

Every year on March 17, people from all over the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In the United States, 127 million people – or 53 percent of the country – plan to celebrate. In 2015, millions of people spent $4.6 billion on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, in the form of decorations and green garb.

Every year, St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the Roman Catholic feast day of Ireland’s patron saint. The holiday brings forth fun staples, such as the three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity or the practice of dyeing the Chicago River green, which started in 1962 and the parades hosted in cities across America.

While “kiss me, I’m Irish” and pinching people who forget to wear green are St. Patrick’s Day traditions, so is the drinking culture. St. Patrick’s Day is the fourth most popular drinking holiday, following New Year’s Eve, Christmas and the Fourth of July. Thirteen million pints of Guinness will be consumed worldwide. In the US, beer consumption per capita in 2011 ranked the nation 15th in the world with 76.6. liters. Thirty-seven million Americans will celebrate at a bar or restaurant and spend an average of $36.52.

Even when binge drinking occurs infrequently, such as on holidays, it can have long-term health effects. Binge drinking, the most common pattern of excess drinking, is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or higher, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For men, this consists of five drinks or more in two hours; for women, four drinks or more within two hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that binge drinking is associated with many health problems, including:

·         Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)

·         Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)

·         Sexually transmitted diseases

·         High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases

·         Liver disease

·         Neurological damage

Immediate danger from drinking is also possible, in the form of alcohol poisoning or driving under the influence. Every 46 minutes an alcohol-related accident claims a life on St. Patrick’s Day. Approximately 276 people died in drunk-driving accidents on St. Patrick’s weekends between 2009 – 2013. During the holiday, 75 percent of fatal car crashes involve a driver two times over the legal drinking limit.

What can you do to reduce binge drinking in your community? Consider sobriety checkpoints, alcohol awareness campaigns, or arranging transportation for people under the influence. For long-term solutions, contemplate one or more of these options recommended by the CDC:

·         Increasing the cost of alcoholic beverages to deter purchase.

·         Limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets that sell alcoholic beverages in a given area.

·         Holding alcohol retailers responsible for the harms caused by their underage or intoxicated patrons.

·         Restricting access to alcohol by maintaining limits on the days and hours of alcohol retail sales.

·         Consistent enforcement of laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.

·         Screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.

CADCA’s impaired driving prevention toolkit provides strategies that you can use to prevent and reduce impaired driving in your communities. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may your holiday be full of Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and a whole lot of green.