Women are fooling themselves seeking comfort in a bottle
I once careered down a street in Limerick with a glass of brandy in one hand and the lead of an oversized Irish wolfhound in the other. Problems arose when the dog went one side of a lampost and I went the other.
I was seventeen at the time, playing in an Abbey Theatre review in which the dog had a bigger role than I had. The fact that I careered down the street was due more to the strength of the dog and the height of my heels than to the amount of brandy consumed.
But, not long after that, I gave up alcohol altogether, instinctively knowing I would never be able to handle it. As a result, bad as I may be in other respects, my liver is in better shape than that of many Dublin women half my age.
Young women today are drinking twice as much as we did back in the sixties and most of them are completely happy that they can handle it.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Cirrhosis of the liver used to be an old man's disease. Now it's also a young woman's disease. Falling down drunk and puking all over yourself used to be rare. Now it's common - ask any taxi driver. Drinking alcohol every day used to be the sign of a problem drinker. Now it's a practically a sign of normal living.
What we're seeing are the human consequences of the coming together of a bunch of unrelated factors. The first of those factors is the notion that wine is not really alcohol. Not really. It's just an indicator of sophistication. Educated people drink wine every day with their meals, goes the theory, as do the French, so it can't be bad for us.
The second random factor is the size of wine glasses. They come in sizes ranging from the size of your granny's good china teacup right up to versions practically the size of a water butt.
The end result is that no matter what size of glass you're drinking, you can convince yourself that you're having only a glass of wine on any given evening. Never mind the small army of empty bottles in the utility room or outside the back door.
The next factor propelling women into drinking themselves into slow (or not so slow) destruction is a cultural belief that life itself, particularly if a woman has a career and children, is so demanding that a daily anaesthetic is required. Female callers to radio programmes talk of the difficulties of coping with the stress of their circumstances, and of looking forward to sitting down in front of the television with a glass of wine in hand.
Somewhere along the line, our society forgot that almost everybody's life is tough and demanding and that getting on with it does not require copious application of alcohol on a daily basis. Until recently, nobody was suggesting that women might cope much better with the stresses of their lives by NOT ingesting alcohol every evening, like a sacramental ritual.
The line has been "sure, you need to relax," or "it's a great way to wind down," and sometimes it is suggested that wine is better than tranquillisers.
To challenge the need for either, or to challenge the sense of entitlement involved, is to suggest that women are not heroic in managing their daily lives.
Price is yet another contributor among the ostensibly harmless factors coming together to create a generation of women, some of whom discover they have an alcohol problem only when they are diagnosed with liver disease.
For the last few years, alcohol has been phenomenally cheap and equally present. Putting a bottle or three in the shopping trolley has become the norm, the purchaser knowing that the cost may be little more than a tenner. The government is now taking action about the excessive presence and outrageously low price of alcohol, but it will take time for that to seep through to consumption habits.
In the meantime, the issue of misplaced tolerance should be addressed. It's time we got over our national fear of being killjoys and nailed the reality: that what seems to be a reasonable treat at the end of a day's work is doing a generation of women no good at all.