Sadly, the Luck O’ the Irish Doesn’t Protect Against Drunk Drivers, STDs, Early Death (Or Anything Else for That Matter)

Since it is indeed St. Patrick’s Day and this is a forum for discussing Men’s health you could probably have guessed that the message today would be about the dangers of alcohol consumption.  However, hopefully I can avoid being too stale and provide you with some new information and just enough caution to cause you to not make a complete fool out of yourself and/or die.  As Socrates so succinctly put it and a quote that applies to so many situations in life: “Everything in moderation”.

First, some little known history about this most sophisticated of American holidays.  Today actually marks the 273rd St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States, which began in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737.  It was originally intended to be a religious holiday (as it still is in Ireland) with a feast celebrating the former bishop and patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick.  The tradition of imbibing alcohol on this day emerged from an old Irish legend that involves St. Patrick and a stingy innkeeper who less than adequately filled the bishop’s glass.  In order to teach the innkeeper a lesson, St. Patrick informed him that a devil in his basement was continually feeding on the man’s dishonesty and that he must turn over a new leaf to rid his establishment of the creature.  Lo and behold, upon his return St. Patrick found the innkeeper filling each glass to the brim.  After swiftly banishing the now-starving devil, the bishop declared that on this day, each person should have a glass of whiskey.

While not on par with the behavioral lessons of Aesop’s Fables or Mother Goose, the story undoubtedly seeks to encourage saintly generosity.  Unfortunately, in the United States you would be hard pressed to find any message attached to St. Patrick’s Day other than “let’s all get hammered” and unlike most other holidays, the celebration’s entire focus revolves around not just drinking, but drinking to excess.  It has been documented in nearly every state that St. Patrick’s Day results in the highest number of traffic-related deaths, as well as the highest levels of arrests for DWI/DUI.  In fact, individuals face a 23% increase in the likelihood of injury or death from drunk drivers on St. Patrick’s Day.

This of course raises the larger issue of alcohol abuse being the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.  According to the CDC it results in 75,000 deaths each year and typically steals an average of 30 years of life from those individuals. Additionally, CDC estimates that nearly an additional 41,000 people die each year from alcohol-induced car accidents and other injuries. This is particularly important for men because we account for 72% of these excessive drinkers.  Figures from a study in the UK found that the male alcohol-related death rate in men was 18 in 100,000, which was more than twice that of females. Another sobering finding (no pun intended) is that a further 35,000 deaths occur each year from alcohol-related diseases such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.  Yes, even cancer.  Less commonly known than it’s direct contribution to the death of the liver is the fact that excessive alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of mouth, throat, esophageal, liver, and colon cancer in men.  If appealing to the preservation of the rest of your body wasn’t enough to give you pause I will risk beating a dead leprechaun by appealing to your own lucky charms.  High levels of alcohol consumption have been shown to result in impotence, infertility, and face and body alopecia by interfering not only with testicular function, but also hormone production.  And we all know the ladies love that.

However, what might prove to be even more dangerous than excessive drinking is the increasing epidemic of binge drinking.  Binge drinking is defined as “drinking heavily over a short period of time with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated” and accounts for a staggering 75% of all alcohol consumed by U.S. adults.  Binge drinking is particularly troublesome because since it is often infrequent, it is not considered to be a problem, yet it carries all the same consequences of regular over-consumption.  In fact, 78% of men who are considered to be frequent binge-drinkers consider themselves to be light or moderate drinkers.  Yet with most other health issues, this is an issue that disproportionately affects men.  Research conducted by the CDC has discovered that men are twice as likely to binge drink and average four times the number of binge drinking sessions per year than women.

This isn’t meant to be an impassioned harangue against alcohol or celebration, especially considering I enjoy the occasional “Irish Car Bomb” myself.  I only preach self-awareness and caution, especially on this most alcoholically indulgent of holidays.  Perhaps try floating a shamrock leaf in your whiskey before drinking, another old custom. At least then you’ll get some vegetables to counteract whatever mystery brew really does make that beer green.  Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Links for more information:

Luke Manley, MPH

View posts by Luke Manley, MPH
Luke grew up in and around Boston, Massachusetts before moving north to attend the University of Maine at Orono for his undergraduate degree. After living briefly in Portland, Oregon he is now working as a Research Phlebotomist and Grants Manager for the Psychiatry Department at the University of Southern California. His passion lies in travel and working internationally, especially in the Middle-East. He has spent time in Turkey, researching the Turkish Healthcare system and recently returned from Syria, Palestine, and Tunisia, assisting with the MedCHAMPS project, which is studying cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. In the Fall he will be moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue a PhD and begin his career in International Relations.


  1. Irish to the coreMay 8, 2010

    Irishmen, and their cousins the Scots, suffer from a mixed blessing. A love of live, and a love of the nectar of the gods. Sometimes the two are at odds.

  2. Irish to the coreMay 8, 2010

    Irishmen, and their cousins the Scots, suffer from a mixed blessing. A love of life, and a love of the nectar of the gods. Sometimes the two are at odds.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top