People talk about drugs all the time, most often unbeknownst to themselves. I’d wager however that if you were to ask a random person, whether they think they talk about drugs very often, they would most likely reply “no” or “not much”. My generalization is based on my own professional experiences delivering drug education and prevention programs with young people and adults. I talk to people on a daily basis about drugs, all types of drugs. In Ireland, as in many other places, illicit drug use carries huge stigma. When I begin a drug conversation, no matter whether it is with a young person or adult, invariably when I say drug … they think illicit. This reveals much about drug(s) as a social construct, and as word that is hugely value laden. Drug talk in Ireland is taboo, especially when talking about personal drug use or family drug use, and even more so when such drug use is illicit.
However, Irish people generally have no problem talking about a stranger’s illicit drug use. Nor for that matter do they have any difficulty in talking about alcohol, in fact many revel in it. It’s a regular occurrence to hear Irish people talk about being on a night out and how much alcohol they drank, and how drunk they were. Irish people have an exhaustive list of weird and wonderful words and phrases for being drunk – “hammered”, “squiffy”, “pissed”, “blotto-ed”, “skuttered”, “gee-eyed”, “bo-jangled”, “twisted”, “bolloxed”, “three sheets to the wind”, “langered”, “ossafied”, “lamped” and the list goes on! This is drug talk, yet very few Irish would consider it as such. This is because very few Irish would include alcohol in their construct of a drug.
My own PhD research is interested in Irish men’s views on men’s recreational use of illicit drugs, and how illicit recreational drug use contributes to the construction, display or maintenance of specific masculinities.
My research is still in its early phase. However, recently I conducted a pilot focus group with a group of young Irish men. Although still in the process of analysing the data, what emerges from the discussion is a distinctive way the young men engage in drug talk about alcohol. This is not the focus of my research, but never-the-less I find it interesting.
In the focus group I was interested to learn whether participants had heard of men using drugs in a competitive way, as in who could consume the most. Initially the group discussed men’s use of steroids and various types of tablet use. However, when I asked them about alcohol, and whether alcohol was ever used in a competitive way, one participant Des* replied laughingly: “ah yeah” … “I didn’t get sick last night … ah damn!” Des was amused at recalling his own drinking experiences and his laughter is indicative of the general social acceptance in Ireland of men being drunk. What is interesting is that being drunk, and in fact being so drunk you puke, carries no significant social stigma for men in Ireland. Within this group having vomited was part of their normal drinking practices and for them indicates having drank a sufficient amount of alcohol, and therefore a demonstration of commitment to the task of drinking itself.
The conversation continued to flow and the men began discussing other drinking experiences. They spoke about doing the Twelve Pubs of Christmas, a competitive drinking game where the participant must consume at least one alcoholic drink in twelve different public houses. The group then turned to a holiday they had shared, and again their focus turned to who had or hadn’t vomited:
Alex: We all went over to Mercy. Remember that? Everyone was like “who got sick last night?” … “Who got sick last night”
Nathan: Nine times (Nathan laughs)
Liam: Me and Ben were the only ones that didn’t!
Des: I only got sick once.
Clay: So …
Alex: Think I only got sick once as well?
Liam: Yeah basically it was a competition.
For Des and his fellow group members, not puking seems to suggest in their eyes not having had a good night out. Vomiting for this group of men was a significant source of amusement and humour, but their laughter served to symbolically sanction and endorse their heavy drinking. For many men, drinking a copious volume of alcohol is associated with the demonstration of hard or tough masculinities. The way in which a man then holds his drink is indicative of his level of bodily control and thus mastery over alcohol. For group member Liam, he proudly boasts that he and Ben were the “only ones that didn’t [vomit]”, suggesting they had demonstrated bodily control and acquired a certain status among their peers. Not vomiting for this group of young men is however a double bind, on one hand represented bodily control and agency over alcohol, but contradictorily it also represents a failure to achieve a sufficient state of drunkenness.
Many scholars have demonstrated the entwinement of alcohol and masculinity, but for me this small focus group excerpt suggests, at least for this group, these men engage is a specific type of drug talk, specifically when talking about alcohol. This type of drug talk is one where humour is used to mitigate the reality of men’s harmful drinking practices. It is generally recognized that drinking so much that you vomit represents harmful heaving drinking practices and presents a significant risk to the individual and broader community. Yet among this group of young Irish men competitive drinking and subsequent vomiting provide specific status and acceptance within their peer group.
– Clay Darcy, December 2014
*Participants have been given pseudonyms
Campbell, H. (2000) ‘The Glass Phallus: Pub(lic) Masculinity and Drinking in Rural New Zealand’, Rural Sociology, Vol. 65, (4), pp. 562-581.
Gough, B. and Edwards, G. (1998) ‘The beer talking: four lads, a carry out and the reproduction of masculinities’, The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review, (1998), pp. 409-435.
Kimmel, M. S. (2008) Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, London: Harper.
Lemle, R. and Mishkind, M.E. (1989) ‘Alcohol and Masculinity’, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Vol. 2, (1989), pp.213-222.
Loughran, H. (2010) ‘Drunk Talk: A Language for Intoxication’, Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, Vol. 54. (1), pp. 7-13.