Why People Drink on St. Patrick’s Day…and Why You Don’t Have To

Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Recovery Unplugged Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Written By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu -

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Last Medically Reviewed on January 30, 2024

St. Patrick’s Day is a widely celebrated holiday around the world, often including shamrocks, Irish-themed clothing, and green beer and cocktails. But do you know why St. Patrick’s Day drinking is part of the holiday?

Learn more about this holiday of Irish pride, its complicated history, and why people drink on St. Paddy’s Day.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick is the most recognizable of all the patron saints of Ireland, but he was not actually Irish. Born in Great Britain, Saint Patrick was brought to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped his captors and returned home, but he said that the people of Ireland called out to him to bring Christianity to the country, which was polytheistic up to that point.[1]

There are many misconceptions and folklore around the patron saint. According to legend, Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. In reality, there were no snakes on the island country of Ireland to begin with, due to the frigid waters that surround the land. Instead, this story is a parable about how Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and drove out paganism, which has serpents as a symbol.[2]

The History of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on March 17th, beginning in the fifth century with the death of Saint Patrick.[3] The Irish have observed this holiday as a religious day for over 1,000 years, traditionally attending church and celebrating in the afternoon.

After Irish people emigrated to America, the holiday became more of a celebration of everything Irish than a celebration of the patron saint. After Irish people emigrated to America, the holiday became more of a celebration of Irish culture and heritage. The first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in 1601 in a Spanish colony, which is now St. Augustine, Florida. However, this parade was not organized by Irish immigrants but by the Spanish colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.[4]

Over a century later, homesick Irish soldiers in the British military marched in New York City on March 17, 1771, to honor the patron saint.[5] Enthusiasm for the parades grew, leading to other large parades in early American cities.

Now, the holiday is celebrated worldwide, allowing people to honor their Irish heritage and culture.

Why Do You Drink on St. Patrick’s Day?

As mentioned, the St Patrick’s Day tradition in Ireland is a religious holiday with a feast in honor of the patron saint on the anniversary of his death. Despite falling in the middle of the Lent season, Irish Christians were permitted to hold their restriction on meat and feast on traditional Irish bacon and cabbage. Drinking was also permitted, which connects alcohol to the holiday.

Irish folklore also suggests that St. Patrick himself had an uncommon enjoyment for drinking. One story cements this belief and may lend itself to the modern practice of excessive drinking.[6] In this story, St. Patrick orders a pint at a pub. The man serving him doesn’t fill his drink to the full measure, which St. Patrick rebukes him for.

He states that the “sin of mismeasure,” or “peaca an tomhais,” is one of the worst sins a man can commit. As evidenced, many who have heard this story have run away with its implications.

Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day in the US

Although celebrating St. Patrick’s Day has been a tradition in Ireland for almost four centuries, it wasn’t always a drinking holiday. However, after New Year’s and Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day is ranked as the third booziest holiday.

In fact, for many years Irish law prohibited pubs and bars from being opened on holy days and religious holidays. It wasn’t until 1960 that Ireland repealed these laws.[7]

Although the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick began in Ireland, it soon became an American holiday. With the influx of Irish immigrants, the United States soon rivaled Ireland with its festivities.

Due to anti-Irish sentiments in the U.S., it took years before St. Patrick’s Day grew into what we know today. Although it turned into drinking and partying in the States during the 20th century, the day remained solemn in Ireland.

It wasn’t until television began broadcasting the festivities in the U.S. that Ireland began changing traditions. Once the Irish caught wind of the fun that could be had, “modern Ireland took a cue from America.” Since then, St. Patrick’s Day has continued to be one of the rowdiest religious celebrations across the globe.

Who Is the Patron Saint of Alcohol Addiction?

With the drinking on St Paddy’s Day, it may seem like Saint Patrick should have the honor of the patron saint of alcohol addiction. Another saint has that honor, though his name is not well known outside of Ireland – Matt Talbot.

Matt Talbot was born in humble circumstances in Dublin in 1856.[8] Ireland was in the midst of the potato famine, leaving people destitute. Heavy drinking and alcoholism were serious problems during this time. Talbot’s father and older brothers drank heavily to escape the living conditions in the city, along with Talbot himself.

Like others struggling with addiction, Talbot engaged in behaviors like stealing or borrowing money to drink, pawning his goods, and spending his pay on alcohol. His early jobs were with liquor merchants to have access to alcohol.

In 1884, Talbot stopped drinking and made a three-month pledge to refrain from alcohol. He then extended his pledge to a year, and then lifelong. He never drank again, despite the ongoing struggle to stay abstinent. He found strength in his religious beliefs and wore a chain as a sign of penance.

Upon his death in 1925, the story of Talbot’s life, the chains he wore, and his triumph over alcohol addiction spread among the Dublin Catholics. He became revered as a symbol of hope and inspiration for those suffering from alcohol addiction, though he has not been canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

About 50 years later, Pope Paul VI gave Matt Talbot the title Venerable.[9] His liturgical feast is celebrated on June 19, honoring him as the patron saint of alcoholics, recovery from substance abuse and addictions, and sobriety.

Staying Sober During the Celebrations

Though the old Irish saying goes, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: The Irish and those who wish they were,” there are critics who claim the holiday has become too commercialized and fosters negative stereotypes of the Irish people.

In addition, a holiday that revolves around drinking as much as St Paddy’s Day can be a significant relapse risk for people in recovery. Instead of fun, the holiday becomes a source of frustration, fear, and temptation.

Here are some ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without drinking:

  • Attend the parade with friends or family – no alcohol involved
  • Cook a traditional Irish feast with Irish stew, coddle, barmbrack, or the staple Irish bacon and cabbage
  • Enjoy traditional Irish folk songs or attend a live performance
  • Join a 5K race in honor of the holiday and show your Irish pride with green gear and shamrocks
  • Spend time with other sober friends

If you’re newly sober or find yourself struggling on a holiday like this, it’s important to have a plan in place in advance. Consider contacting your sponsor or support group, attending a recovery meeting, or reaching out to others in your support network. You may find that your sober friends are looking for activities to avoid triggers on St. Patrick’s Day as well.

If you do decide to attend St. Patrick’s Day events that may have alcohol, bring someone along who can offer support. Strangers, or even people under the influence, may not realize that you’re in recovery and may unintentionally pressure you, but having a support friend with you can ensure you resist temptation and have an exit plan in place.

Enjoy the Festivities Without Alcohol

Guinness, Irish whiskey, and green beer may be part of the festivities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the fun while sober. There are many ways to show your Irish pride without binge drinking, and Recovery Unplugged is here to help. This St. Patrick’s Day, don’t give in to the “sin of mismeasure” and mismeasure your strength in recovery. If you think you might not get through the holiday sober, we’re here for you. Reach out to Recovery Unplugged today to get the help you need.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.



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