Have Our Men Missed Out?

It is not often we see a new organisation started up to look after the needs of men or men recognising the importance of developing friendships, sharing knowledge and skills and becoming productive and valuable in their community.  All of this in a happy, welcoming environment where no pressure is exerted and filling in spare time with others who are willing to share. This new organisation which has now almost 300 units and 6,000  participants  is called “The Men’s Shed”. The CEO for Ireland is John Evoy and was founded in Ireland in 2009 and is in most towns including CountyTipperary, a vibrant one in Thurles, where men are doing something very meaningful with their lives.

One time men had plenty of places that were considered “men only” places, like the pub where they could meet up with friends and have a chat, the workplace, clubs or even football and hurling terraces.  All of these places, up until the 70’s were the exclusive meeting places where men could congregate and talk freely about their own interests and enjoy leisure time in male environments.  When women’s liberation demanded equal rights  and started to infiltrate the male domain, some men felt their space usurped and old traditions died.

A new study carried out by the Samaritan’s has revealed startling figures that are shocking. The study found that men who are unemployed, especially the longterm unemployed,  are 10 times more likely to die by suicide, and state this is because they have lost their masculine identity and pride. In Ireland last year 525 people ended their own life, 84% of them men.  This is roughly 9 men every single week dying by suicide. With these figures in mind, places like the Mens Shed is a valuable service and is both controlled and open to men where they can talk, develop companionship, share their problems and generally feel that they are not isolated and alone.  These were some of the neccessary factors highlighted in the research as beneficial to good mental health.

When men feel they are not meeting standards of power over their lives and feel that their role as breadwinner is inadequate, they feel a sense of shame and guilt which leads to suicidal thoughts. With an unemployment rate of 17.8% for men and the changing nature of the labour market,  it is inevitable that we see more and more men living lives feeling hopeless and feeling abandoned by governments and society. Over the last 40 years the changes in the labour market has changed for unskilled men, but as men are generally reluctant to talk about their problems or seek help, even to go to a doctor, not enough has been done to overcome the problem that we have today in our country. Governments have not yet arrived at a conclusion that suicide should be treated as a health and social problem and in spite of many interested parties involved in the prevention of suicide, men appear to fall between the stools.  

There are three aspects which have been recognised as mens problems;

  1. a sense of not belonging, of being alone
  2. a sense of not contributing, of being a burden,  
  3. not being afraid to die, seeing suicide as an option.

Men have always invested so much in their work that when they lose their jobs or retire, they feel worthless and unable to contribute.  That is just one step to feeling a burden on those they love. Men also put less effort into developing and maintaining friendships, so feel more alone.

Mens health and life span also add to the problems that men endure. Men live shorter  lives than women and if they have health problems do not seek help at an early stage when a diagnosis could be valuable and the problem fixed.

If men can get the support to get through the times they feel disconnected or a burden on others, social supports can turn things around and a comforting word can change how one feels at this point.

Committed or working on community projects are all positive actions that men can do and the Mens Shed movement offer these types of services that allow men to meet and sit and talk or share their skills.

When men feel they are contributing to their community it increases self esteem, self belief and gives a boost to their well-being. All of these things change lives that are seeking fulfilment and a raising of the spirits. Men need support and understanding and their peers allow them the space to discuss issues that encourage sharing of problems and difficulties and bring a new aspect to lives that may be dis-jointed and vulnerable.

Coping with Chronic Illness

Any  illness lasting longer than one year is considered chronic and include illnesses like heart disease, diabetes,   kidney disease, asthma, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone, Parkinsons, to name just a very few. Mental health issues also come under the same banner.  All of these illnesses can cause a drastic change in one’s lifestyle and are an on-going challenge to the sufferer. They interfere with employment prospects, relationships, independence, happiness, self-esteem, and may totally disrupt normal living.

People who suffer chronic illness have to deal with the effects on the body, mind and emotions. It can escalate low spirits, depression, isolation and every day can be a constant struggle. Many feel angry at having to suffer never- ending restrictions, the loss of their health and wellbeing and go through the recognised stages of grief and loss. Any form of disability that is life-changing  escalate negative feelings and often people suffer in silence because of the stigma that surrounds their disability.

Dealing with chronic illness is stressful for those who are carers within the family and who feel they are also powerless, as well as the sufferer. For families, the adjustment can be difficult, with perhaps changes in income, socialising, being  grounded  and fear for the future. This is where knowledge and being actively involved, asking questions, researching the internet for articles pertaining to the disability, all alleviate some of the  mystery that surrounds  chronic illness and the drugs  used and  their side effects. Never be afraid to ask questions and express your opinion to the medics who are in charge. When you accept a disability and its limitations it allows you to plan and this can make life easier on everyone involved in the care plan. Keeping the sufferer informed of any changes, new drugs coming on stream, household plans, holiday or respite plans, all ease the fear that the sufferer is enduring and allows them to be part of the discussion and decision-making.

Research shows,  and medics agree, that those with faith and live a prayerful life have less stress, as well as fewer symptoms.  Being grateful to the people who support you and acknowledging their assistance, determines the overall attitude that is reciprocated. Generally people will respond positively and be more helpful when the sufferer retains their sense of  humour.   When people remain good humoured in spite of their disability it makes life easier for all concerned.  Resilience and keeping a positive attitude always pays off.  Search for your strengths and motivate yourself to achieve the best results and doing every little chore that you are able to do, will always enhance how you feel.

Chronic sickness,  with its limitations, eat away at your self confidence and the sense of hope needed for the future. Every medication and drug taken have side effects, many lead to depression amongst other added problems. There are many ways that help overcome the barriers  that you encounter, like listening to music, exercising, reading, deep breathing and meditation. Writing an everyday journal or other stories also have great benefit and  is beneficial in passing the time in a fruitful way.  Spending quality time with family, friends who care,  and the feeling of being wanted and loved as a person, always help.

Taking time to adjust  and accepting the reality of having a sickness that is long-term may have serious implications for financial, social and future years and requires skills and patience to achieve that adjustment. When you are first diagnosed with an incurable disease you feel vulnerable, confused and worried. When life seems unfair—which of course it is— sadness, fear, disappointment and anger are all normal reactions and are difficult to deal with.  Those who are close and caring may be the butt of unintentional anger and frustration.  Developing resilience will eventually allow you to return to be the person you aspired to be before  being struck down.

Family members may have to endure disturbed sleep, fatigue, an inner pain, anxiety, irritability, tension, worry  and  need much patience to adjust to their changed lifestyle also.  Minimize stress by getting rid of unnecessary obligations, surround yourself with positive people and accept their help, however small. Keep in touch with friends and take time out for yourself. If friends offer to take the sufferer out for an afternoon,  be grateful and accept gratiously.  Keep your spirituality nurtured by prayer and sacred readings and asking your higher power to help you in your unenviable task.  Have courage to adapt to changes and to lifestyle. It is a daunting experience to watch a loved one  endure a disability that change life and one of great challenge on the physical and emotional psyche.  Perseverance in keeping life as normal as possible is essential. Caring and sharing is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling way to live your life and any sacrifices made will  be eventually rewarded no matter how difficult the situation.

What Makes You Feel Drunk? Alcohol as a Mood Alterer

What makes you feel drunk?

Alcohol is a mood altering substance and affects the nerves that pass messages around the body by slowing them down. Sometimes people act more lively when they drink or become giddy as the alcohol affects the parts of the brain responsible for self control. But as the affects of alcohol heighten, your co-ordination becomes disturbed and you become shaky on your feet, your speech becomes slurred and you may get double vision.  The more you drink the more your judgement becomes impaired and your emotional responses  becomes stronger.  Aggression and anger rises to the surface. You may also do things that would not be normally part of how you behave.

As you continuing drinking the alcohol passes into your bloodstream. If you drink faster than one drink every hour, the alcohol will flood the bloodstream and can affect the brain stem and even shut it down which causes damage to vital body organs. Classic warning  signs of this is when you start to forget what you are saying  or are unsteady on your feet or become aggressive for no reason, or even fall asleep.

Enjoying a drink is part of the Irish culture, or so we are led to believe.  The dangers and the long and short term affects of alcohol on our bodies is something we should all learn about and should be taught to every child at an early age.  In our culture the custom is to buy “rounds” for those we are socialising with,  which adds to the amount of alcohol we consume and also the extras that we did not mean to drink. If women are consuming the same amount of “rounds” as men, that spells even bigger trouble for the woman who is unable to absorb the same quantity as men. . But whatever way we drink all the latest research suggests that drinking until we get drunk and repeatedly subjecting the brain to the effects of withdrawal from large doses of alcohol damage brain cells and with binge drinking is even more detrimental to the brain cells.

Research and anecdotal evidence shows that many adolescents start to drink at a young age and found that students who are binge drinkers engage  in risky behaviours that harm themselves and others. Recent research in the USA  states that those who start to drink at a young age start using marijuana and cocaine, having sex with six or more partners and earning low and fail grades in school. As children move into adulthood they must contend with physical, emotional and lifestyle changes. As the brain continues to develop into the twenties and continue to establish important communication connections, the abuse of alcohol has far reaching consequences for the individual.

Scientists currently examining the effects of alcohol on the brain  say that long lasting impairment of the brain  will affect long-term memory and learning skills and lead to liver failure are a cause for grave concern.  Doctors are now finding a huge increase in the numbers of young people presenting with elevated liver enzymes and disease  that are now being found in young people who began drinking heavily as adolescents. The drinking of alcohol during puberty may also upset the critical hormonal balance necessary for normal development of organs and adversely affect the maturation of the reproductive system.  In the USA all states have set the minimum legal drinking age at 21.

So why are we in this country allowing the abuse of alcohol amongst our teenagers to continue unabated when we are well aware of the damaging factors that will  follow.?

Parents ability to influence whether their children drink, setting clear rules and consistently enforcing them and monitoring their children’s behaviour all help to reduce the likelihood of underage drinking. As we have widespread and aggressive advertising  of alcohol throughout the country promoting events associated with young adults and regarded by many as part of growing up,  we as a society must recognise that underage drinking is dangerous not alone for the drinker but also for society. This  is evident by all the statistics showing alcohol involved motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, and other injuries. When will those in authority call halt and allow our children to grow up in safety and free from an alcohol culture? We have laws that curb the disastrous abuse of alcohol but they are not implemented. Look at our streets on weekend nights, look at young people on foreign holidays, look at all the groups of young people gathered in gangs, all drunk and so many disorderly,  it cannot be rocket science to establish where the alcohol comes from and prosecute the offenders.

There are multiple volumes written about alcohol and its effects on both young and old, but yet we continue to turn a blind eye and allow this damaging culture to continue.  We see how angry people become when we see the use of illegal drugs being openly sold on our streets and in our towns and villages, yet we all know that alcohol has far more devastating effects on society and on those who must bear the brunt of its use.

The estimated cost to society by the misuse of alcohol  to the health care system is 1,200 million euros.  The cost of alcohol related suicides is 167 million euros, road accidents cost the state an enormous 526 million euro and alcohol related crime a staggering 1,189 million euro. So if you think that the drinking of alcohol has no impact on your life,  think again.  Adding up all the costs in other areas of life,  like absence from work, accidents at work and premature deaths, the figure comes to 3,719 million euro. (Byrne 2010). Yet a blind eye and lack of law enforcement continues in spite of the enormous cost to every person in the state.

Over the past number of years there has been at least ten committees/groups tasked with bringing forward recommendations on alcohol issues. Fifteen reports have been produced but few of the recommendations have been implemented.  Why?  These reports show the disruption to children, family life, relationships, domestic violence, child neglect and a myriad of other after affects of the misuse of alcohol.  So where does the start of the tackling of alcohol problems begin and cognisance taken of what it inflicts on society?

As with every other problem, the answer starts with YOU. Are you drinking too much? Are you drinking at home? Are you showing good example to your children? Are you monitoring their access to alcohol? Are you explaining the long-term effects on their futures, their education and their wellbeing?  If not, why not?

Do you  discuss the benefits of abstaining from alcohol until your children are mature adults?  Do you promote abstinence as a way of living? As children grow up and either go to third level colleges or to work  have they been nurtured to be able to stand on their own two feet without the necessity to use drugs of any nature?  These are all the questions that adults and parents must ask themselves to spare the deep unhappiness and misery that the abuse of alcohol  as well as other drugs cause.  If you care about your children then surely you will offer them the advice, example and encouragement to allow them to grow up in happiness and tranquillity without having to revert to mood altering substances.

The Simmering Problem of Elder Abuse

In Ireland we have no legislation governing the abuse of the elderly in spite of repeated promises over the years that this would be enacted.

Is this another case of abuse of vulnerable citizens that will remain under the radar until some other calamity happens and is brought into the public domain screaming and kicking?

The shock that reverberated across the country when a television programme exposed and produced videos of elderly, vulnerable people being abused in a care home made the headlines and some staff were suspended and another such inquiry was established.

According to the Central Statistics Office in the 2011 census,  136,295 people over the age of 65 live alone in Ireland and almost 500,000 people over 65 live in homes with others. 66% of those that live alone are women and that increases to 75% for women aged 85 and over. Between 2006 and 2011 there was an increase of 18% in men over 65 and 12% increase for women,  with an increase of 22% in men and women over 85 years of age.  Living longer is one of the bonuses of modern Ireland, with better health care and nutrition,  but it also increases the problems associated with getting older.

According to the National Council for Aging and Older People, we have at any given time 12,000 older people suffering abuse at the hands of their carers, be that in the home or in institutions.

As little research has been done and records are scant an exact number is difficult to ascertain, as only severe cases come to the attention of the HSE. This problem is being pushed under the carpet, as we are prone to do in this country,  not having learned from the previous abuses which have come to light in the recent past.  But going by statistics in the UK and other countries, from the research that they carried out, shows  that between 3% and  5% of the elderly experience abuse of some form on a regular basis.

Authorities were slow to admit or accept that women and children were abused over decades and both the Government and those in charge of such institutions, mainly religious orders, were in denial until dragged into the public domain and made to make restitution for lost years and broken lives. Older people do not have the time nor the energy to fight this silent abuse  being perpetrated on those who are in vulnerable and dependent positions at this stage of  their life.

We know that physical, mental and emotional abuse is taking place, but it is clear that as a society we are not ready to deal with the problem in an honest and open fashion. In other countries they have a protocol in place to facilitate whistle-blowers and other carers to report such cases to the authority in charge of the elderly.  In 2000 the Department of Health set up a group of people who work with older people, like doctors, public health nurses, social workers, the gardai, psychiatrists and nursing  home representatives, as well as a public campaign to highlight elder abuse and heighten awareness in the public mind. Fifteen years later we are still awaiting for action.

There is a consensus among the experts that a wide range of abuses do exist and anecdotal evidence give credence to that. Abuse can vary between financial, physical, psychological, discriminatory and neglect. Financial abuse is the most common,  followed by psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse and a wide range of issues that surround  neglect.  Because family members are the main perpetrators of  abuse and account for 81% of the reported cases to the HSE,  it is difficult to ascertain the full extent of abuse on older people. The elderly are often fearful, ashamed and not willing to complain about an adult child who is abusing them, so much abuse goes  undetected.  If the person  is isolated and have few visitors or other contacts it escalates the problem as the abuser may be the only one to care for them and others may not be in a position to challenge them.

The National Centre for the protection of Older People said that most abuse is perpetrated by a son or daughter as was seen by 45% of complaints, with husband/wife/partner  accounting for 20% and 15% linked to others including relatives. 66% of victims were women and those over 80 years of age were most at risk.

As people grow older they may suffer serious financial abuse as they arrive at their twilight years. They may have amassed savings  or property which was the result of a lifetime of work. When they must through necessity or immobility hand over the responsibility of their financial affairs to others there is always the possibility of theft, fraud, exploitation, drawing down a pension and keeping it or spending it without authority.  There has been numerous high profile cases of misappropriation of  savings, homes, property, especially farms and pressure to change wills to benefit the perpetrator, with no redress for the older person who may be weak and vulnerable. In many of these cases people face daily threats of harm or violence, are regularly humiliated, intimidated or verbally abused. If isolated,  it further escalates the possibilities surrounding abuse and an older person may be unable to trust  another to disclose what is happening.

A garda spokesperson told Irish Health.com that there are currently no guidelines in relation to elder abuse similar to that in place for child abuse. Individual cases are usually dealt with by local gardai by an individual guard.  Reports of abuse may sometimes come from the victim themselves or from others with regular access to the victim, like the public health nurse or doctor. But as there is no legislation for implementation it is a useless exercise.

Dr. Des O’Neill consultant paediatrician has spoken out and said that the elderly should be treated with respect and dignity and that changes need to be made in the way society treats people as they grow older. Government policies with the withdrawing of benefits and their affects  treat people as if they are a burden on the state, and on the health system.  Like cuts to the home help hours, the withdrawing of rural transport, a reduction to the  benefits that made life more tolerable as old age creeps in, even discrimination like screening of over 70’s for a drivers licence, all confirms what Dr.O’Neill has said.  Dr. O’Neill has also stated that many families with the best will in the world,  undermine their elderly relative’s desire to retain their independence and control of their affairs.

Definition of abuse

Physical abuse may include physical force, hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, pulling hair, pinching, inappropriate restraint, burning or ro  ugh handling.

Psychological  abuse include the persistent use of threats, humiliation, bullying, intimidation, isolation, swearing, shouting and other verbal conduct that result in mental and physical distress.

Financial abuse include the unauthorised and improper use of funds, pressure to change wills, demanding the handing over of property or any other resources belonging to an older person, theft, coercion, fraud, misuse of power of attorney and using funds for the perpetrators use.

Neglect refers to repeated deprivation of assistance needed for daily living or withholding necessities such as adequate hygiene, food or heating.

Discrimination include racism, ageism, discrimination based on disability, harassment, slur or similar treatment.

Institutional abuse may occur in care settings and involve poor standards of care, rigid routines, and inadequate responses to complex needs. Any of the above abuses may also take place in institutions. Already highlighted in care homes were psychological maltreatment, physical assault, not answering calls for toilet facilities or drinks, not ensuring meals were adequately taken, ignoring calls for assistance by bedridden people and the taking and withholding of pensions by the institutions involved.

The tell tale signs according to the American National Centre for elder abuse and to watch out for,  include unexplained injuries such as cuts, bruises, or burns for which strange and inconsistent explanations are given, unkempt appearance like soiled clothes, bad odour, dirty bed linen, bed sores or pressure sores, evidence of confinement such as being strapped into a chair or locked into a room, dehydration and  malnutrition  without a medical cause.  A person  being fearful,  withdrawn,  depressed or full of anxieties and worry.  A hesitation to talk  openly or being defensive where close family members are

involved.   An air of silence and hopelessness.

In today’s world the enormous financial losses suffered by families and their security at risk, may mean an escalation of abuse on elderly relatives. Their welfare must be  more closely monitored by those in authority and those whose duty it is to care for elderly and vulnerable people. Carers may take out their frustration and anger at their own problems on an older and weaker person. People who suffer addictions with drugs, alcohol, gambling or are in severe debt, are more likely to be abusive and require money on a regular basis. Instilling fear and being verbally or physically abusive are ways of commandeering an older person’s assets.

The rights of the elderly in Ireland as well as the rest of the Western world are being eroded on a daily basis. In Western countries there is a cultural stigma around aging and dying.  In countries  like China, Korea, Japan and Greece all honour and celebrate respect for their elders and is the root of how they operate as families. 75% of Japanese parents live with their adult children and are considered valuable assets in rearing and passing on their wisdom to the next generation.

Aging is a personal journey for all of us and we are conditioned by events and opportunities and changes throughout our lives. Those of us lucky to be cared for with love and kindness by our children have much to be grateful for and remembering in the final up we will all reach, if we are lucky, old age to be lived out in productivity and fulfilment.

The Plight of Men Who Live Alone

Many men who live alone are isolated, housed in poor and dilapidated conditions and become reclusive about their lives. Some suffer depression as well as a range of other mental illnesses and find communication difficult as their health and living conditions deteriorate. They can be seen by society  as “strange” and there is little understanding of the difficult lives they lead.   Alone and without the comforts of life that are  taken for granted by the rest of society, these men, many with no coping skills for living , are struggling every day. Very little research has been carried out about this particular group of men and it is difficult to get a bigger picture as to how widespread their problems are. Anecdotal evidence and my own personal experiences all point to a real and disturbing marginalisation of these men.

Over the years I have visited many of these men and their living conditions were always a concern for me. Recently I was asked to look into the plight of a single man who lived alone,  but as  I am unable to do visitation now I asked two other St. Vincent de Paul members to do the needful, which they duly did. This man was not “typical” of the people being visited by the Vincent de Paul and he had never appeared to come to the notice of his community. When I was told of his circumstances  I realised things for men like him have not changed much over the years and in fact some cases have got much worse. When visited by the two  VdeP members they found that this man lived in intolerable conditions and they immediately took on the onerous job of making his house liveable, for which he is extremely grateful.

Such men are often loners, poor shoppers and many live on a diet of bread, cheese, beans and fries. Some of them live in shocking conditions. Washing bedclothes is a rarity and keeping the house in order is a chore too much for many to do.   Their homes are rarely decorated and necessities like blankets and sheets are seldom or never purchased. Cooking equipment is usually very basic and often left in dire need of cleaning.  Many go to the pub to be in a warm  place and to spare fuel and have company in the process. This is seen by society as an indictment of how they live and treat them as such.

Many alone men who live in rural areas, even on a farm,  while they may have an adequate income, they do not have the knowledge or the determination to maintain a house or even to cook a proper meal.  They live in cold and damp houses especially if they were built before insulation was introduced.  Windows and doors may be draughty and  heating non – existent.  Many of these men cared for elderly parents and sacrificed their own lives and the opportunities of getting married until it is too late. Their regrets are spoken about in a way  that  portray  their depressed spirits and their inadequate social skills to communicate their situation.

In the recent past  men have been let out from mental health institutions  to live in the community and are left without the proper resources and back up that they need being put in place.  Even though they may be in the minority, their lives are extremely difficult and they find living alone in a flat or in a sheltered house impossible. For these men trying to care for themselves  is a challenge and is an indictment on our health services that these vulnerable men are left to their own devices. Men who live alone in rural communities may have no contact with the outside world except for the pub or mass and live lives of deprivation, desperation and loneliness.  New laws have exasperated their loss of companionship and company.


Over many years visiting these men I realised that more need to be done to highlight the difficult lives that these men endure and bring focus and attention to their needs. In every town in Ireland and in every rur

al area we have these men eking out a life deprived of the bare essentials and fading into the community.  How many of these men die alone in squalor and malnourished?  From my experience very many die young,  be it from the result of alcohol addiction or malnourishment or a combination of both.

We have at this present time a furore about the homeless and that is right and proper, but why do we have to wait for a death on a street to happen before it becomes a matter of urgency?  Those who care about those who are homeless have been shouting loud for many years about the plight of these men with no one in authority listening or caring.  Decisions taken by government which included the closure of bedsits added to the problem of homelessness when for some, a bedsit is adequate for the needs of one person to heat and to sleep and it gives these men some social interaction with others. Another bad decision made by those who obviously do not understand.

Men who live alone in flats and unable to care for themselves also die young,  their sense of hopelessness evident every day.  But because society can turn a blind eye to their voiceless  lives,  the misery they suffer is pushed under the carpet and they become another statistic. Men do not usually visit the doctor when they are ill and have no one to encourage them to care for their health, hence an escalation of health problems that could have been dealt with earlier.

The reduction of the rent allowance paid to those living in private accommodation and the rent payable for social housing  added  to the  huge pressure on the finances of those who live alone. Trying to live on £188.00 per week with close to 20% of that gone on paying rent, before heating, food and the basic necessities are paid for, is a sad reflection of how those in power expect the vulnerable to survive on their meagre income.  For men who live alone with disabilities, poor health and often suffering addictions, society appears to have turned their backs on this very vulnerable and deprived group of our citizens. `

At this time of the year it is imperative that people who know men who live alone take some time to ensure that Christmas will not be spent  lonely, marginalised and hungry for those pushed to the fringes of society by the fact they ended up alone in life and becoming just a statistic.




Isn’t it truly amazing that there is so little research or data available on younger men who live alone especially those on social welfare, have a disability or on low incomes.  Many of these men are invisible in communities and if they are not in the public eye for drunkenness  or public order offences they fade into the background and their lives never come under the spotlight.

Alcohol and Women – the Gap is Narrowing

In Ancient Rome, an alcoholic woman was considered such an affront to society she could be legally put to death.  It was assumed that every woman who drank alcohol was also promiscuous, another reason to put her to death. We still have women treated with rejection, disgust, prejudice, apathy or indifference who suffer from drug addiction, alcohol addiction or drunkenness.

Today, the gap between the amount that women drink relative to men is much narrower and in the younger age groups, girls are drinking more than boys. Recent studies show that in Ireland 52% of young women compared to 48% of young men have been drunk before the age of sixteen. Looking at the damage that alcohol inflicts on women this is an alarming statistic and needs to be highlighted.  Women are more vulnerable than men to the medical consequences of alcohol.

 Women need to educate themselves on the harmful effects of alcohol on their bodies.

When we look at research carried out, it states that addiction or dependence on alcohol progresses at a faster rate in women than in men, a phenomenon referred to as the “telescoping effect”.  For example women develop alcohol induced liver disease, with a lower intake  and fewer years  of drinking than men. They are more likely than men to develop alcohol induced hepatitis and to die from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Women are also more susceptible to alcohol related heart disease than men, even though they may drink less alcohol than men over their lifetime. Other studies have identified an an association between drinking alcohol and breast cancer with one study by Hernandez and his colleagues stating that women who consume just one drink per day have a 1O% higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink. They also have an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, as well as a weakening of the heart muscles which affect the lungs. Alcohol also affect the brain with binge drinking, (now a regular thing with women) causing heart irregularity and sudden death. It also causes problems with stomach ulcers, internal bleeding and cancer.

Research also shows that female reproductive health is affected by the heavy use of alcohol and it also markedly interrupts regular menstrual cycling, ovulation and fertility.  For young girls even moderate alcohol use has been shown to reduce oestrogen levels and also disrupts normal growth and body development. In midlife, alcohol misuse can result in early menopause as well as impacting on hormone levels, affects  bone health and accelerates cognitive and physical decline. Many women use alcohol to increase sexual responses, where in fact,  it decreases sexual functioning. Prolonged use of alcohol has been found to have a negative effect on desire or arousal for women.

Because women have more body fat than men,  alcohol is less diluted in women and it takes longer to break down, so women get drunk faster than men.  It is important that women do not try to keep up with the rate men drink at for that reason. Alcohol is measured in standard drinks.  A pint is two standard drinks and a pub measure of spirits is 1.1 standard drinks. A glass of wine or beer is one standard drink. ( A half a pint is a standard drink).

Drinking three or more standard drinks a day puts women at risk of diverse health problems and drinking more than 11 standard drinks across a week should be the maximum. If you drink more than this you are drinking too much. If you can drink large amounts of alcohol be it wine or any other, without getting  drunk,  it does not mean that that is ok. You have developed a tolerance for alcohol by drinking a lot and this means you are drinking regularly over the risk limit which leads to damage to your internal organs,  including the pancreas which is extremely painful and can be fatal.

Depression is closely linked to heavy drinking in women and women who drink alone at home are more likely to have drinking problems. This is becoming more of a problem with cheap wine and other alcohol being freely and cheaply available in off-licenses. Female alcoholics have a death rate of 50 to  100 percent higher than those of their male alcoholics.  Alcohol abuse leads to a pattern of missing work or skipping child care responsibilities, drinking in dangerous situations, such as before or while driving or having  fractious relationships within family and friends, getting into fights and being aggressive and unruly.

Young women under the age of 21 should not drink alcohol according to the research experts. Drinking at an early age increases the likelihood of liver, heart and brain disease and the suppression of the immune system. Because women become pregnant in their twenties and thirties, this group faces the greatest risk of having babies with growth, mental impairments and foetal alcohol syndrome which is caused by drinking during pregnancy.

Older women are especially sensitive to the stigma of being an alcoholic and thereby hesitate to admit to having a drinking problem. They are more likely to use other medications that can affect mood and thought, such as those for anxiety and depression. These psychoactive medications can interact in harmful ways with alcohol. Aging reduces the body’s ability to adapt to alcohol leading to high blood pressure, depression, sleeping problems, heart problems and falls.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women over 65 should limit their drink to one a day.

If you drink more than the safe amount every day, examine these signs of alcoholism:

  • craving or a strong need or compulsion to drink;
  • loss of control or the inability to stop once you have begun;
  • physical dependence, like having withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety;
  • tolerance, the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to get the same buzz.

Women should also recognise that other factors escalate drinking further when they are experiencing the following;  parents and siblings with alcohol problems, a partner who drinks heavily, the ability to “ hold her liquor” more than others,  a history of depression, a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse.  The presence of any of these factors is a good reason to be especially careful with drinking. Much research to understand the consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction in women and to find new ways to prevent and treat alcoholic problems are ongoing with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Most of the research done previously was about men.

Finding out why women drink too much is the first step. The role of genetics, and family environment and also a woman’s life such as the type of job she has, whether she combines family and work, a change in marriage status, divorce,  departure of children, infertility, relationship and sexual problems all appear to add to the necessity of women drinking to excess.  Scientists also want to know why women in general seem to develop long-term health problems more quickly and are examining issues like alcohol and breast cancer and the extent that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis in some women. They are also trying to determine   how to identify women who may be at risk for alcohol problems and to ensure that treatment will be effective when the time comes. Binge drinking has become fashionable and acceptable leading to blackouts and memory damage and the ability to remember and to learn.

So why have there been such an increase in women drinking alcohol?  Given the long-term damaging effects to mental and physical health why would anyone lay up such a store of problems?  Drinking leads to feelings of sadness and depression and those who consume alcohol  have  a much higher risk of suicide or attempted suicide. We have a serious problem with binge drinking in Ireland, and this can and does lead to alcohol poisoning and it can be fatal. Hangovers that make you miserable is highlighting the body’s way of saying “you are abusing me”,  leaving headaches, sick stomachs and depression to be dealt with the next day.

Drinking alcohol is a choice we make.  We can live quite well and even happier without it, so is the time here when we must ask ourselves “why”. Try  abstaining for a while and see if life becomes better, easier and more tranquil.  I can assure you it will.

Cannabis – Recreational Drug Use? What About the Dangers?

How much longer will we have to listen to those who tell us they only use cannabis for a bit of fun or recreation?  How much longer will we see the law of the land being broken? How much longer will we see our children subjected to peer pressure to use drugs for the “crack”? How long more will we ignore the dealers who are well known in their communities?  “Only part of growing up”, or. “Only experiencing new feelings and experimenting”,  those promoting its legalisation say. We even have elected representatives promoting the use of cannabis to be made legal.   It is time we all woke up to the long-term damage that any drug, including cannabis, can leave in its wake, much of it irreversible for life. It is sad that some in power are sounding out reasons to help legalise cannabis, the most popular of recreational drugs used in many countries across the world.

Cannabis may give a sense of euphoria, a drunken feeling, or a euphoric sensation but studies carried out over many years in Australia and New Zealand  and many other countries including the Netherlands tells a different story.

A recent study in New Zealand carried out with a thousand people under eighteen years of age has found that cannabis leaves a significant and irreversible reduction in their IQ. It also found that weekly use of cannabis resulted in a twofold increase in depression and anxiety, especially in young women and, this persisted into later life. Regular use  of cannabis triggers acute psychotic episodes and worsen outcomes in established psychosis. Daily users reported high levels of depression, anxiety, fatigue and low motivation.  In another study of young adults, over 33% reported they had suffered anxiety and panic attacks with 15% reporting psychotic symptoms  following the use of cannabis.   The study also found that they under achieve and are less successful in their chosen occupation and eventual marriage.  The more they use, the greater the long-term effects of cannabis.

And we are all asked to buy into the myth that cannabis is ok to use, it is only a recreational drug doing no harm!

Other research available have shown users develop dependence, impaired respiratory function, cardiovascular disease, psychotic symptoms and adverse outcomes of adolescent development, namely poorer educational outcomes and an increased likelihood of using other illicit drugs.  Further disturbing evidence from research in Sweden showed cannabis was associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.

So why do we continue to be fooled by those looking to legalise cannabis?  Is it because they may be addicted and do not want to be law breakers?  The research shows that the use of cannabis  have plenty of long-term negative effects on the user that affect all of society.  So have we learned nothing from legalising alcohol, nicotine, or prescribed drugs?  All these put together cost the taxpayer multi billions every year in health, in criminality and in education.  Not to mention lost days at work or long-term sick leave.  Once a drug is legalised it is accepted by society no matter what the consequences for those who must pay by added taxes and frustration.

When we look at the detrimental health effects of cannabis use on some    and the scarce resources that are now being allocated to those in dire need of the Mental Health Services, it is time that the long-term effects of cannabis and all other  illicit drugs be highlighted and the law brought to bear on those who sell and deal in drugs. We all recognise that our country is awash with all kinds of drugs and they are readily  available in every town and village.  The time has come to tackle this enormous problem and find ways of addressing addiction and the tentacles that flows from this problem to the detriment of society and to our next generation.

Communities need to get together, as they did recently in Roscrea,  and shout out loud that a stop must be put to this scourge and the damage being done to our citizens. All drugs have far reaching  implications for those that use and abuse, so maybe we should again promote the benefits of abstinence and ask young people to take a “pledge” not to indulge. Their lives would most certainly be better and more peaceful when they have full control of their senses and can make proper decisions that will bring them happiness.  Much of the violence we see now would be eliminated and families would be saved the pain and trauma of seeing the end result of what is mood altering and personality destruction in our country.

About Alcohol and Mental Health

How many more reports will be requisitioned and how much more money will be spent in gathering statistics about our attitude to the taking of alcohol and its abuse by our young people? And when will something actually be done about it?.  We appear to accept that it is alright to see our young people in a drunken state on our streets. In the recent past our young people have been filmed, for national television, at foreign holiday destinations drunk and abusive and engaging in activities that are harmful to themselves and others. Highlighting the  abuse of alcohol by our young people is important because alcohol is the most dangerous of drugs and yet it is freely available and legal. It is generally the starting point for the taking of other substances that alter moods and have long-term effects on the user.

There is an acceptance that our young people today, many who binge drink at weekends, a trend that sets them apart from their European counterparts, is not alone condoned but ignored by parents, the law, and basic common sense. Biologically  teenagers  brains are still developing and alcohol targets and damages the areas of the brain responsible for memory,  impulse control, reasoning, logic, self regulation and judgement.  All of these impact on thinking, functioning and behaviour.   Behavioural patterns that last a lifetime are being established during these formative years as people. According to Dr Bobby Smyth young people who started drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those that start older. Early drinking is also associated with other risky behaviours such as the use of illegal drugs, unsafe sex  and  poor mental and physical health.  Adult heavy drinkers and alcoholics  generally established their drinking patterns in their teens.

Alcohol impacts on mental health. Mental health means different things to different people. Good mental health is usually about a  positive way of living and being able to handle and cope with  everyday situations. Every drug interferes with the chemicals in your brain and alcohol can contribute to the development of mental health problems as well as exacerbating pre-existing mental health difficulties.  In Ireland alcohol is directly attributed to 88 deaths every month and one in every four deaths of young men between the ages of 15 and 39 is due to alcohol. One in three road deaths are also attributed to alcohol consumption.  Yet in our country we not alone encourage the use of alcohol by advertisements, lack of law enforcement, cheap drink and easy access,  we accept it as a way of celebrating and as a good pastime. Drinking is the centrepiece of gatherings and be it happy or sad times we use alcohol as a way of marking the event.

Following the initial feeling of wellbeing after the first drink alcohol then acts as a depressant and feelings of anxiety and depression quickly resurface.  Alcohol can exaggerate  underlying feelings  of anger, tearfulness or aggression after drinking the first few drinks. The anti-social behaviour on our streets at weekends confirms this. Alcohol may produce feelings of happiness initially but can lead to significant lowering of moods in the hours and days after consumption leading to feelings of hopelessness and if someone is already feeling a degree of depression the fall in mood can lead to suicidal ideas.

Many reports identify a strong link between alcohol misuse and thoughts of suicide, attempted and completed suicides among young people under twenty four years of age. The HSE in a report stated that alcohol can facilitate suicidal thoughts by increasing impulsivity, changing moods and a deepening of depressed feelings.  Self Harm can take place after just one drinking session. The WHO (World Health Org) has estimated that the risk of suicide when a person is abusing alcohol is eight times greater than those who do not. A report in the UK (Mental Health Foundation) states that as many as 65% of suicide deaths were related to excessive drinking and alcohol is recognised as one of the highest risks of suicides. The HSE research and data confirms that alcohol alone continue to be the main cause of deaths by poisoning. Alcohol was responsible for one in three deaths by poisoning in 2011, more than any other drug used.

Excessive drinking is associated with low self esteem and poor mental health. Amongst young people 11% say that parental alcohol use had a negative impact on their lives , that is approximately 109,684 children.   Parents and adults should note that young people model their drinking behaviour on the attitudes and actions of the adults they see around them as well as being influenced by alcohol marketing and their peers.  A person’s tolerance of alcohol increases with use so that an individual needs to increase the amount of alcohol to decrease their anxiety or to medicate their depression.  It is also difficult to know when enough is enough.

 In a recent survey conducted across Europe, 48% of boys and 52% of girls in the 15/16 age bracket in Ireland said they had used alcohol in the previous thirty days. Where is the law?  Where are their parents?  Girls  out -numbered boys, a trend observed since 1995. This is very serious because girls and women process alcohol at a slower rate than boys or men   and so, it takes less alcohol to cause the same level of damage, both short term and long-term.

The impact of drunkenness has already surfaced as chronic alcohol related health conditions among  young people are becoming increasingly common and diseases normally associated with older people are being treated in much younger people. This includes an increase in alcohol liver disease (ALD) among the younger age groups.  It is both extraordinary and worrying that among 15 to 34 year old people there has been a 275% increase in ALD between the years 1995-2009 – and nobody seems to be doing anything about it!.   This  increase in alcohol liver disease suggests we are starting to see the effects of the large increase  in alcohol consumption in this age group.

The ease of access  to alcohol is also a source of concern. There has been an explosion in the number of outlets selling alcohol at “pocket money” prices with a bottle of beer less than the price of a bottle of water.  Discounts on multiple packs of alcohol  has created a culture where young people buy slabs of beer for consumption adding to the problem. The consequences of this are evident. In 2011, 84% of Irish 15/16 yr olds reported alcohol was “very easy or fairly easy” to get, compared to 75% in 2007.  26% said they bought alcohol for their own consumption from the “off trade” in the previous month to the survey being taken and 37%7 said they had bought drink from an on-trade outlet in the same period. Where are the laws being implemented? When 15 and 16 year olds are making such blatant statements about breaking the law..

So what does all that data and research tell us?  It tells us that our young girls and boys are storing up a lot of addiction problems in the future, with lives destroyed and futures blighted. A generation who will not be able to reach their full potential because of chronic illnesses associated with the abuse of alcohol. There will also, sadly, be a great deal of unhappiness.  Adults and those who care for young people will regret the day when they did not oversee the rearing of children and explain the difficulties that lie ahead by accepting or turning a blind eye to early alcohol use. We are together storing up unnecessary trouble down the road for those so young and vulnerable.

We have the data and the statistics. We know the short-term and long term damage that alcohol is inflicting. We must now start making responsible choices to stem the tide. There are NO safe limits for alcohol consumption for young people.

The choice is for all of us to make and implement.

A Wake-Up Call about Heroin

In 2012 the annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has stated that Ireland has the highest numbers of heroin users, along with Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta in Europe. They state that we have 30,000 citizens addicted to this dangerous and overpowering drug.  In the EU the average rate of heroin deaths per one million people is 21. For Ireland it is a staggering 68, three times that of the average.  For many years heroin was confined to Dublin, but that is no longer the case as heroin is freely available in every town and village throughout the country. The official name for heroin is Diamorphine  and is made from morphine which comes from the opium poppy. It is usually brown/white powder, smells acidic, and is usually mixed with substances like talcum powder, sugar, starch, or even powdered milk.  Recently it was found that dealers  in Dublin mixed rat poison and strychnine to bulk up the heroin.

Heroin is  either smoked, sniffed, or dissolved in water and injected. The effects of heroin last for up to three hours with the initial rush followed by a dreamlike state of peacefulness and contentment.  Pain is  reduced as are aggressive tendencies and sexual drive.

First time users, especially  if  the mix is infected, causes severe nausea, vomiting and blinding headaches.  Experimenting with heroin is a risky business because it is highly addictive.  Larger doses of heroin can lead to drowsiness and can result in overdose and coma. It can and often is fatal and if you take heroin regularly you may build up a tolerance but if you stop taking it, even for a few days, your tolerance levels will drop rapidly and there is an added risk of overdose on the same amount. If alcohol is added to the equasion an overdose is more likely.

The alarming fact is that the HSE has admitted that in some parts of our country there is no treatment available.  West of the Shannon there are no facilities for heroin users to get treatment.  Dr. Cathal O’ Sulliobhan of the HSE has said we are sitting on a “time bomb” where a mini HIV epidemic could easily become a reality, due to the sharing of needles and other equipment associated with injecting heroin.  There are approximately 9,200 Irish people on Methadone, the accepted treatment  leaving 21,000 without help or care for their addiction. Less than half the General Practitioners in the country can prescribe methadone, but methadone has its own dangerous and fatal problems with 113 users dying in 2011.   There is a Pharmacy needle exchange programme with over 90 pharmacies offering assistance but this is nowhere near adequate to address this escalating problem.

An attitude exists that suggest that all people with a drug problem are criminals, rather than a person having a dependency issue who have turned to crime to support and fund their addiction.  There is ample information to be found about heroin and those who are using heroin are in daily danger of overdosing and dying or living a life of misery and challenge. Heroin is derived from the opium poppy and its abuse and dependence produce side effects which may result in a range of detrimental health problems like:

heart problems including infection of the heart lining and valves: infectious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C: chronic pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases: blood clots or tissue death, resulting in collapsed veins: bacterial infections; liver disease: arthritis and seizures.  Short term physical effects also include depressed respiration, (shallow breathing) clouded mental functioning, uncontrollable feelings of itching or picking at the skin.

Because of the uncertainty of the heroin mixture that is bought from street dealers addicts never know the strength of the heroin they are using or what it is mixed with.  Addicts are in constant threat of overdose or poisoning from heroin causing death. Another major problem is the growing tolerance of the use of heroin leading to the need for increases in the frequency and quantity of heroin consumption to get the same buzz and adds to the problems of the addict.

Symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction gives definite physical symptoms like : weight loss, needle track marks visible on the body, infections and abscesses at the injection site, cuts, bruises or scabs from skin picking and for women the loss of a menstrual cycle.  Behavioural signs of heroin abuse and addiction include: lying and other deceptive behaviour, avoiding eye contact, increased hours of sleeping, increased slurred, garbled or incoherent speech, lack of performance at school or at work,  vomiting and diarrhoea, decreasing attention to hygiene and physical appearance, loss of motivation, withdrawal from friends and family and seeking out others not usually their associates, lack of interest in hobbies, stealing money or valuables to sell,  hostile behaviour towards loved ones including blaming and shouting obscenities, regular comments  indicating loss of self esteem and worsening body image, wearing log sleeves or pants even in hot weather to cover needle marks.

Heroin abuse is an extremely serious condition and require  specialists  experienced in chemical dependency detoxification to deal with the patient.  Curtailing long term use of heroin suddenly can cause serious medical complications including death. Heroin detox should not be attempted at home or without supervision from a doctor who understands dependence and withdrawal.

For an addict detoxing from heroin is the biggest battle that will ever be fought to get back to a life without heroin, but if you don’t then the prospects of death hangs closeby every day and the only life you have controlled by the seeds of the opium poppy. It is extremely difficult to withdraw from using heroin and withdrawal symptoms start around 8 to 24 hours after the last fix. Symptoms are aches, tremors, sweating, chills, anxiety, irritability, loss of appetite,  muscular spasms, hot and cold sweats, cramps, sneezing and yawning, runny nose, diarrhoea, fever, insomnia and crying.

If you are living or are looking at a loved one in the throes of heroin addiction, you should seek help for yourself, as the affects of the abuser will impact on your own life and make living full of anxiety and fear.  Any person addicted cannot be helped until they themselves want to quit and often the wait for that day is painful and extremely difficult.  But recovery is possible for everyone,  if they want it.

A Christian Outlook Should be Adopted for Everyday Living

The wisdom of the greatest commandment in how to live our life is “you shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your soul and you shall love your neighbour as yourself”   Imagine a world where this principle would apply. These words are the core of all spirituality and are a summary of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes that are the guidelines for happy, caring, compassionate and generous living.  All Christian churches and Religious Orders merely express different  aspects  of these core words about spirituality, some take the contemplative side of spirituality while others take justice and action as their message. In just two lines Jesus gave the recipe for a life of sharing, care, support and acceptance of how we should live and treat our fellow man and how we live and support those who live in our communities.

All Christian organisations espouse the teaching of these words that  give hope for liberty, equality and love of our neighbour.  It is essential to include spirituality and the social aspects of life to try and eradicate all the injustices that we see in our country every day. We see every day, in spite of being a Christian country so much inequality, hopelessness, violence, murders, the poor being made poorer, people feeling excluded in communities and the scourge of drugs and the abuse of alcohol.  We have become a nation full of hypocrites, scarce in truthfulness and honesty, the powerful saying they care about the poor, while at the same time imposing welfare cuts and taxes that have huge implications on the lives of those on the margins and their children.  To develop and practice spirituality one must become aware of their own values and actions in treating others with respect and dignity which forms the core of loving your neighbour.

We must all ask ourselves where we stand on justice and equality for our neighbours and friends and are we prepared to stand up and be counted when we see their living standards being plundered and diminished. Do we put need before greed?   Do we put might and power before right?  Do we  try and put an end to the demeaning need for charity which just shows up the failure of how we treat out less well off neighbours and those who are sick or disabled?  Do we continue to have an upstairs downstairs acceptance of how others must live or continue to accept a two tier society where the rich get richer and those on low incomes being asked to bear the burdens and mistakes of those who have failed to keep our country just and equal.  Each and every one of us is responsible for our input into how we accept our attitude to the implementation of unfair burdens being placed on the vulnerable.

We must all look at members of our country who govern, those in jobs responsible for the distribution of our taxes, all the professions, big businesses, the Church and other mega wealthy people who are all part of this problem. All these people come from the top tier of society and have little understanding of the needs of those who are impoverished and downtrodden and appear not to care. Ghandi once said “there is enough in the world  for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”. All poverty is created by marginalisation and by ignoring the building of communities that are inclusive and caring. All decisions made by those in power  either enhances or devalues the livelihood and incomes of our citizens and every year when the spending of taxes, being collected from people, come to be distributed,  morality and fairness must be a top priority.  

All morality and fairness in sharing the “spoils” is about economics, justice, equality and giving people essential needs to live a life that is dignified and have basic needs met.  At every budget meeting are people who sit around a table who can change how those who are sick, disabled or on very low incomes get their share, if the will to act justly and fairly was there to balance their income to their needs.  Poor and those who live in poverty are no asset to any country, so in the interests of all of society their needs should be met in an equitable way and allow them to live with enough for the basic things in life. In this way we could look at the words that Jesus spoke  “love thy neighbour as thyself”  If those making the financial decisions in our country would follow these inspirational words I doubt if people would be left homeless, without proper care, education or the wherewithal to survive with dignity.

As we face into the preparation of how the budget is about to be spent in the coming year, carved up and distributed to different departments would it be too much to ask those who have the power, the wisdom and the knowledge to act justly, to restrain their own remuneration, to have empathy with those needing a break from austerity and look after the needs of our most vulnerable in what is declared a Catholic country by 84% of our citizens.  A Christian outlook would bring more peace, prosperity and justice for everybody if that were to be the outcome and we could all enjoy the benefits of living in a land where love and fairness is encouraged and practised.