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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 26, 2008

Irish Drinking Stereotype Denies Being a Cultural Stereotype

Chris Matthews – a liberal political pundit on MSNBC – is a proud Irish American. On the MSNBC morning show, responding to a joke by Mika Brzezinski about his drinking at a prominent Irish social event, Matthews responded: “Despite the ethnic stereotype, I haven’t had a drink since 1994.”

Note to Matthews: this is the Irish cultural stereotype. George Vaillant found that Irish-Americans in Boston were seven times as likely to become alcoholics as Italian, Greek, and Jewish Americans – at the same time as they were more likely to abstain. Vaillant commented: “It is consistent with Irish culture to see the use of alcohol in terms of black or white, good or evil, drunkenness or complete abstinence.”

(Interestingly, Vaillant was a board member at AA, which is the American version of this perspective.)

The same is true of Irish drinking in Ireland itself. According to the Department of Health and Children in Dublin, Ireland is the European country with the lowest daily drinking rate and the highest binge drinking rate. Only two percent of Irish men drink daily, while nearly half binge weekly. This is the virtual reverse of drinking by Italians.

Alcohol and Moderation
Ireland vs. Italy
  % of men who
  Drink every day Binge 1+/week

Source: European Comparative Alcohol Study

Chris Matthews is the most incisive and critical political commentator on American TV (he is a vehement critic of the Iraq war, for instance). Yet, depressingly, he cannot differentiate between stereotypical – and harmful – binge drinking and regular, enjoyable – and healthy – moderate drinking.