Today is St. Patrick’s Day in America and while the day is intended to celebrate Saint Patrick, it is really a day for celebrating the Irish and getting drunk.
There are all kinds of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
We have parades. We have pints of green beer selling for a nickel a glass. We wear green or live in fear of getting pinched.
Beyond the laughter, the bawdiness and the ubiquitous curse of The Green Beer — I wonder about a deeper cultural and ethnic issue bothering the whole idea of getting drunk in the name of a Saint in celebration of cultural icons.
If there another national holiday dedicated to one culture — where the overarching idea of the day is to get blasted and bleary-eyed?
Is there a reason people live to get drunk on St. Patty’s Day?
Do we honor the Irish by getting falling-down drunk?
Is there a genetic predisposition in the Irish population for alcoholism and, if there is, what does that say about our need to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by imbibing?
One cannot become an alcoholic — genetically coded or not — unless
one takes a drink of the evil brew, so if there is a tendency in the
Irish community for alcohol addiction, is it proper for us to serve
that stereotype and mock the addiction by getting drunk and partying?
I realize this is a touchy subject. It is more difficult to discuss
genetic alcoholism in the Irish and Native American communities
than it is in the Jewish community because there is such a wide and
pervasive image of the blathering Irishman and stumbling Native
American in our cultural core.
I grew up around a lot of 100% Irish families and — if there is a
stereotype in that community for connecting with alcohol in every
recreational moment — I can testify to the verity of that notion.
One family had five brothers. Four of the brothers died of alcoholism
after drinking for 30 years. The one remaining brother remained a
“working drunk” for 55 years and he started drinking at age 10.
He was a hardcore, nasty, cruel drunk. He drank two liters of Irish
whiskey a day.
He was hospitalized many times for severe alcohol
intoxication. He always returned home to his family and the cold
comfort of his bottle.
Finally, with his liver failing, he gave up the juice for good. He did
it cold turkey. He swapped his alcohol addiction for an M&Ms
addiction and gained 30 pounds.
He is still alive, and dry, today. He’s
been sober for 15 years.
Is that a miracle? Or is that just how life unfolds on itself as one
tries for 55 years to run from the genetic demon brewing the demand for alcohol from within every corpuscle?
In 2006 Molecular Psychiatry suggested there is a genomic identifier for alcoholism in the Irish:
Genomewide linkage study in the Irish affected
sib pair study of alcohol dependence: evidence for a susceptibility
region for symptoms of alcohol dependence on chromosome 4
Alcoholism is a relatively common, chronic, disabling and often
treatment-resistant disorder. Evidence from twin and adoption studies
indicates a substantial genetic influence, with heritability estimates
of 50-60%. We conducted a genome scan in the Irish Affected Sib Pair
Study of Alcohol Dependence (IASPSAD).
If you’re going to get drunk today in the name of St. Patrick, please
be careful where and how you do it and please don’t drive if you’ve
been drinking. The risk of death isn’t the curse of a Saint you need
resting on your soul.