Dr Gerry Lane, a consultant in emergency medicine at Letterkenny General Hospital, is widely known and respected for his unflinching honesty in a national road safety campaign on television. This week, he was equally hard-hitting about the effects of excess drink on people of all ages in Donegal.
“If by speaking honestly, we can save someone from drinking so much that they end up getting killed, raped or pregnant this week, we will have done a public service,” he told the Donegal Democrat/People’s Press.
“Nobody wants to be The Grinch, nobody wants to steal people’s Christmas. But that’s pretty much what it’s like - when someone tries to speak honestly about our extremely unhealthy attitude to alcohol, when anyone asks people to stop and think about it - they are treated like they are the Grinch.”
The reality, though, is staring us in the face, he insisted.
“We see the harm on a daily basis, what excess alcohol does to people, whether taken in the short term on a binge or on a regular basis day in and day out. It’s affecting people of all ages and across every social group: no one is exempt.
“Alcohol takes sensible people and turns them into silly people. It takes nice people and turns them into people who are not nice. And they go on to harm themselves and others.
“Less than a year ago, on one night in our emergency department, we dealt with 20 people from a single establishment. How many pubs and nightclubs are there in Donegal?
“We still drink a high amount of alcohol - we have the second highest level of consumption per capita in Europe. That’s legal drinking that we know about.
“And you have to remember that 20 per cent of the population doesn’t drink at all. So our drinkers are doing double duty. And we are starting younger.
“The more alcohol is available, the more people will drink. My grandfather always had an expression, ‘The person takes a drink, the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes the person.’
“Once you have a few drinks taken, you lose your ability to think and act responsibly. What started off as a bit of fun, a nice warm glow, ends up with you drunk, injured, at home crying, sick or worse. Some end up killed, raped or pregnant.
“Thousands of people are putting themselves unnecessarily at risk every weekend, and part of this is due to underpriced drink - from corner shops, supermarkets, pubs and clubs.
“Alcohol is a low-grade poison. Shopkeepers, hoteliers, publicans and nightclub owners are not health care workers. They will argue that if someone wants to drink 50 shots, it’s not up to the person selling the drink to stop them.
“The World Health Organisation did a study at Letterkenny General Hospital in 2003-2004. They found that half of all our trauma cases were due to alcohol.
“If you come into the emergency department on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, you’ll find that most patients would have alcohol on board. It would be relatively unusual to find someone who was stone cold sober. They’ve been drinking and the drinking has facilitated their injury or illness.
“Irish young males are far more likely to be injured as a result of drink - from fighting, falling or in cars.
“Anybody who is out there in the real world knows what we are talking about.
“The repercussions are huge. The more alcohol is available, the more people will drink.
“Once people have enough drink taken, they stop being rational. It’s easy to grab the hand of an unreasonable 3-year old and pull him or her out of danger but it’s a lot more difficult to pull an irrational 23-year-old away from a fight or out of a car.”