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Binge Drinking

What Is the Connection Between St. Patrick’s Day and Alcohol?

May 11, 2024
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 11, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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Why Is St. Patrick’s Day Synonymous With Drinking?

  • What began as a break from the restrictions of Lent has turned into one of the biggest drinking days of the year. The negative effects of binge drinking and misperceptions of the origins of St. Patrick’s Day have had detrimental effects on our health, on our understanding of Irish culture, and on the environment.

  • Practice mindful drinking and celebrate with non-alcoholic alternatives and other healthy festivities.

  • Curious about sober celebrations? Reframe can provide information about the dangers of binge drinking and help you quit or cut back on alcohol.

Every year on March 17th, every pub in town has a special event for St. Patrick’s Day, and your friends invite you out for a pint. But did you ever wonder, “Why do people drink on St. Patrick’s Day?” How did St. Patrick’s Day become the biggest drinking day of the year for so many people? Why is it even more of a big deal in the U.S. than in Ireland? Let’s find out!

How Did St. Patrick’s Day Start?

We may be familiar with bar crawls, green beer, and green getups, but who exactly was St. Patrick, and why do we celebrate him? 

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Born around the 5th century, St. Patrick was a missionary and bishop credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Today he is considered the patron saint of Ireland, and the holiday marks the supposed date of his death. It was celebrated by a feast as far back as the 17th century and thus is sometimes referred to as the Feast of St. Patrick.

So how did this historic feast lead to a day of binge drinking and overconsumption? Fast forward to the 18th century.

The History of Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day

To understand how St. Patrick’s Day became synonymous with drinking, we need to take a look at Ireland’s history with alcohol, specifically, with beer.

The History of Beer in Ireland

The list of beers produced in Ireland seems to go on and on. Beer brewing in Ireland can be traced back thousands of years. While beer was widespread, whiskey was also commonly produced. According to a book by William Coyne titled Ireland, Industrial and Agricultural, in the 18th century, the Irish parliament removed taxation on beer brewing to encourage it over whiskey distillation, which they hoped would discourage the excessive consumption of whiskey. The Irish parliament rewarded brewers for alcohol production that used Irish products or supported Irish culture, which contributed to the rise of Irish beers. Over the centuries, Ireland began exporting beer to England and, eventually, the world.

Origins of Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day

So what does all this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day (also known as St. Patty’s or St. Paddy’s Day)? Most Irish people in the 17th century were Christians, meaning they celebrated Lent, which occurs every year between February and April. Lent participants fast and abstain from foods such as meat, and of course, alcohol. 

The Feast of St. Patrick happened to fall within Lent, so after it was established as a holiday, the church created a workaround: on March 17th, all Lent restrictions were lifted for the day. This included alcohol restrictions, which gave the public an excuse to consume as much beer as they wanted since they knew they would have to abstain again for a couple more weeks.

Now we know about St. Patrick’s Day and how it’s related to alcohol in Ireland, but what about the rest of the world? To learn more, we need to cross the pond.

St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S.

In the mid-19th century, Ireland suffered from the Irish potato famine, which led to a huge influx of Irish immigrants to the U.S. They brought the tradition of St. Patrick’s Day with them, and the American population started taking part as well. This resulted in the development of the St. Patrick’s Day parade (which, ironically, wasn’t a thing in Ireland until 1903).

With the arrival of Irish culture and customs to the United States, so came the arrival of Irish beer. Over time, St. Patrick’s Day became less about St. Patrick and more about celebrating Irish culture, with everyone taking part in the festivities. The centuries-old tradition of imbibing lived on, regardless of participation in Lent or any Christian holidays.

Nowadays in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most popular holidays for beer consumption (along with the 4th of July), and among the biggest drinking holidays of the year (along with Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve). Let’s take a look at some statistics.

  • Over 30 countries celebrate St. Patrick’s Day worldwide.
  • An average of 13 million pints of Guinness beer are consumed worldwide on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • American consumers spend approximately $6.16 billion on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Over half of the American population claimed to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in 2022.
  • Almost a million people gathered in downtown Chicago in 2024 for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the famous dyeing of the Chicago River a bright emerald green by the Chicago Plumbers Union.

That’s a lot of people taking part in the festivities, and many of them also happen to be drinking extra-festive green beer.

What’s the Deal With Green Beer on St. Patrick’s Day?

Traditionally, the celebrants would consume Irish whiskey, beer (especially dark beers known as stouts), and cider on St. Patrick’s Day. These days, many venues may simply color all beverages green, meaning anything can become a St. Patrick’s Day drink. While the green color may look festive, a boatload of bad luck can come with the alcohol consumed. 

The concept of dyeing beers green was started in 1914 by a man named Thomas Hayes Curtain as a way to heighten the festive atmosphere and “go all out” during a St. Patrick’s Day party he was hosting. At first, it was dyed using a chemical called “wash blue,” which was meant to be used as a laundry whitener (a pint of Tide pods, anyone?). The chemical reaction of wash blue with the beer turned it emerald green — but also made it toxic. According to old news sources, no one was hurt during the party, but wash blue wasn’t used anymore afterward.

These days that emerald color comes from food coloring. Sounds pretty innocent, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in green food coloring.

  • Propylene glycol — a synthetic liquid used to maintain flavor quality and moisture content (and to make polyester compounds)
  • Yellow 5 — an artificial yellow dye that has been linked to hyperactivity in children
  • Blue 1 — an artificial blue dye linked to hypersensitivity reactions and other health concerns
  • Propylparaben — a preservative to extend shelf life

While these food dyes are generally safe in small doses, they are not meant to be consumed in large quantities, and drinking large amounts of beer with food coloring only adds to the toxicity of the alcohol. Some people have even reported allergic reactions or intestinal discomfort from large amounts of food coloring.

Negative Impacts of St. Patrick’s Day Drinks

St. Patrick’s Day has a historic connection to alcohol but also a modern one. Let’s take a look at some statistics.

  • Tendency to binge drink. St. Patrick’s Day is the third biggest day of the year for binge drinking, which has both short- and long-term consequences for our health, from possible blackouts to increased risk of liver disease and heart damage. 
  • Accidents. Due to excessive alcohol consumption, traffic accidents spike on St. Patrick’s Day. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the deadliest days of the year for driving in the U.S. From 2017 to 2021, between the evening of March 16th and the morning of March 18th, 272 people were killed in drunk-driving accidents.
  • Unlucky additives. It’s not just the alcohol we should watch out for. That green dye present in St. Patrick’s Day beers may claim to be safe, but there’s documentation of people having allergic reactions to the food coloring when consumed in large quantities. 
  • Effects on the environment. You may have seen pictures of the Chicago River with its bright green hue on St. Patrick’s Day. While the city claims the 40 pounds of green dye have no adverse effects on the environment, there is still a plethora of wildlife there, and both the dye and its removal can put a strain on ecological resources.

As we can see, St. Patrick’s Day comes with many consequences, so how can we partake in it more mindfully and cautiously?

Alcohol-Free St. Patrick’s Day Ideas

Alcohol-Free St. Patrick’s Day Ideas

Want to be a part of the festivities without consuming alcohol? Here are some fun ways to stay alcohol-free on this holiday.

  • Try green mocktails. There is no need for bottomless kale juice to enjoy a green beverage (unless that’s your thing!). There are countless alcohol-free cocktails to add to the festivities. Try a cucumber-lime mocktail or an iced coconut green tea!
  • Focus on culture. Learn about Irish culture and heritage through music, art, or movies.
  • Try “green exercise.” Green exercise is any form of exercise outside or in nature. Reconnect with the environment and notice countless benefits for your mental and physical health.

While the binge-drinking partygoers wake up feeling hungover on March 18, you can wake up feeling happy and refreshed.

Summing Up St. Patty’s Day

As is the case with many commercial holidays, most people don’t realize what they’re actually celebrating. St. Patrick’s Day, in particular, is often seen as an excuse to drink in the U.S. Green mocktails, green exercise, and cultural activities are much safer for our health. By steering clear of the binge drinking traditions of St. Patty’s Day, we’ll have a lot more luck staying healthy and happy. 

Summary FAQs

1. Why do people drink on St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day takes place during Lent. Historically, the Lent restrictions were lifted during that day, allowing people to consume whatever they wanted.

2. Why do people drink beer on St. Patrick’s Day?

Beer has been brewed in Ireland for thousands of years, making it a popular choice for consumption during St. Patrick’s Day.

3. When did St. Patrick’s Day start?

The holiday started in the 17th century as a feast commemorating the death of St. Patrick.

4. Is green beer bad for you?

While the green food coloring isn’t bad in small quantities, beer still contains alcohol, which is bad for our health.

5. Is St. Patrick’s Day the biggest drinking day of the year?

It’s one of them, with over 30 countries celebrating it and more than 13 million pints of Guinness stout beer consumed that day.

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