Before her appearance on the Ray D’Arcy Show, Cáit O’Riordan tweeted that she was going to chat about her pet subject – addiction education. The former Pogue has been sober for 15 years and she told Ray that joining the band at age 17 was quite the education:
"My gawd – if you’re going to mis-spend your youth, why not go all the way?"
Cáit was too young to be allowed into the Pogue’s first gig, but she met Shane McGowan the following day and he told her that the band needed to be louder, they needed an electric bass. Guess who had an electric bass?
"I had a bass guitar, which no one had ever bothered to teach me to play because that wouldn’t have been punk rock."
McGowan wanted Cáit to play through an amp so they could beef up the sound and people wouldn’t be able to talk during the songs. And that’s how Cáit joined the Pogues. But, she insisted to Ray, she never did learn to play that bass guitar.
Being in a band like the Pogues meant that Cáit was exposed to a culture of serious drinking and she believes the only reason that she managed to survive was the fact that she was a lightweight:
"One of the diagnostic criteria for addiction is tolerance and I never had tolerance. That’s the one thing on the list of criteria I would never tick because I never had tolerance. First drink, my whole body would just suffuse with this amazing feeling. And, I mean, I would keep drinking, but I was drunk. So, tolerance was never an issue. So I think that’s why I’m alive."
The lifestyle of a band member is the perfect one for a functioning alcoholic, according to Cáit: someone comes to pick you up, gets you to the venue and pushes you out on stage. You don’t lose work, you don’t suffer any consequences because of your drinking, so you never stop. Cáit had what she calls a 48-hour cycle:
"I’d have a day where I’d drink and then the next day I would be a broken wreck, very, very ill. And that would last all day and all night, and I’d do the 'never again’ and then, the morning after that, I’d be recovered enough to start again. And I did 20 years of that on a 48-hour cycle."
That cycle continued until Cáit was 42, by which time she had a quarter century of heavy drinking behind her. It was when she was 42 that Cáit was diagnosed with depression, but she didn’t at that stage get a dual diagnosis of depression and addiction. Indeed, she didn’t even understand that alcohol addiction was a thing. But her hangovers were only getting worse and she was tired of feeling awful so often. She went to a doctor she trusted and told him that she wanted to stop drinking but didn’t know how.
"And he said, for the first time ever that I heard this, he said, ‘I think you’re addicted to alcohol.’ Which was extraordinary. I’d never heard anyone ever talk about 1. alcohol is addictive or anyone as being addicted to alcohol. I had no conceptualisation of alcohol as a drug. My concept of addiction was heroin and junkies."
One of the first things that occurred to Cáit after she heard that alcohol was addictive was how did she not know? How had she got to age 42 without knowing something that could have such a serious impact on her life?
"This is my hobbyhorse now – wouldn't it be great if we were taught about this? You know, in between the algebra and, you know, you have to learn French or German or whatever, wouldn’t it be great if there was at least one module which was just about ‘these are the criteria for the diagnosis of addiction and watch out for them.’"
Learning some useful life skills in school? Sounds like something that makes sense. You’d have to worry that it will never catch on. Cáit O'Riordan talks about serious subjects with a remarkable lightness of touch and she really knows what she's talking about. You can hear Ray’s full conversation with Cáit by going here.